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Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System

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BRFSS Contents

Item: Prevalence and Trends Data
Item: SMART: City and County Data
Item: BRFSS Maps
Item: Web Enabled Analysis Tool (WEAT)
Item: Chronic Disease Indicators (CDI)
Item: About the BRFSS
Item: BRFSS Datasets (downloads and documentation)
Item: Chronic Disease and the Environment
Item: Questionnaires
Item: FAQs
Item: State Information
Item: Publications and Research
Item: Training
Item: Site Map
Item: Related Links

BRFSS Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

For more information on specific BRFSS programs, see the SMART FAQs and BRFSS Maps FAQs.

What is the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS)?

The BRFSS is a state-based system of health surveys that generate information about health risk behaviors, clinical preventive practices, and health care access and use primarily related to chronic diseases and injury.

How do you conduct the survey?

The BRFSS is a cross-sectional telephone survey conducted by state health departments with technical and methodological assistance provided by the CDC. Every year, states conduct monthly telephone surveillance using a standardized questionnaire to determine the distribution of risk behaviors and health practices among noninstitutionalized adults. The states forward the responses to the CDC, where the monthly data are aggregated for each state. The data are returned to the states, then published on the BRFSS Web site.

What type of information does the BRFSS collect? How often is it collected?

BRFSS interviewers ask questions related to behaviors that are associated with preventable chronic diseases, injuries, and infectious diseases. States use standard procedures to collect data through monthly telephone interviews.

What is done with this information?

Have you ever been watching the evening news and heard a news reporter say, “the CDC reports that a number of people do (something), which is bad for their health?" This survey enables them to get that information. State and local health departments and National health organizations such as the American Cancer Society and the American Heart Association also use BRFSS information to plan and target their health initiatives.

BRFSS may be used to identify emerging health problems; establish and track health objectives; develop, implement, and evaluate a broad array of disease prevention activities; and support health-related legislative efforts. Please see the State-by-State Listing of How Data are Used on the BRFSS Web site for more information.

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Who takes part in the BRFSS survey? Are they compensated?

Adults 18 years or older are asked to take part in the survey. Only one adult is interviewed per household. Participants are not compensated. Responses to the questions help shape public health policy in towns, states, and the nation. Another reward for participating is the knowledge that these efforts will help America be healthier.

Do you provide instructions on conducting and evaluating the survey?

Yes. This information can be found in the BRFSS User’s Guide on this Web site.

Can I download the survey data? Is documentation available?

Survey data and comprehensive documentation for a given year can be found in the Technical Information and Data section of this Web site. Data files, codebooks, design documents, methodology, and more information can be found on the BRFSS Technical Documents and Survey Data section page for any given survey year. For data, methodology, and other documentation specific to Selected Metropolitan/Micropolitan Area Risk Trends (SMART), please see the SMART Technical Documents and Survey Data section.

What are the components of the BRFSS questionnaire?

The BRFSS questionnaire is comprised of core questions and optional modules. There are three types of core questions. Fixed core questions are asked every year. Rotating core questions are asked every other year. Emerging core questions typically focus on “late-breaking” health issues. These questions are evaluated at the end of a survey year to determine if they are valuable. If the coordinators decide to keep the questions, they are added to the fixed core, rotating core, or optional modules, whichever is most appropriate. All states must ask all core questions. The optional modules are standardized questions that are supported by the CDC that cover additional health topics or are more detailed questions on a health topic included in the core. Each year states must choose which optional modules they will use based on the data needs of their state.

How can I find out which states used which optional modules?

Each year states administer the core questionnaire and have the choice to administer optional modules supported by the CDC. To determine which states used which modules, see the Questionnaires page.

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My state asked a question I don’t see listed in the questionnaires. Why can’t I find it?

Many states using the survey call to request that state-added questions be included at their own expense. Because these questions are not funded by the CDC and are not part of the official BRFSS questionnaire, they are not included on the Web site. However, there is a list of state-added question topics available from the Questionnaires page.

For information on state-added questions, contact the State Coordinator for a specific state.

How are new questions added to the BRFSS questionnaire?

The content of the BRFSS questionnaire is determined by the state BRFSS coordinators and the CDC. Each year, the state coordinators may choose to add new questions based on proposals submitted before the annual BRFSS conference. Each proposal requires a rationale supporting the questions. This rationale should include the following: the origin of the question; history of prior cognitive and validity testing; history of prior use; an analytical plan (i.e., specific prevalence estimates that can be derived from the data); and the extent to which the proposed questions satisfy primary and secondary criteria, such as being pertinent to a Healthy People 2010 objective or priority health issue. The content of the questionnaire reflects the data needs of the state health departments. If questions are approved by the coordinators, then they go through technical review, cognitive testing, and field testing before being placed on the questionnaire.

Where can I obtain a copy of the BRFSS questionnaire?

Annual questionnaires dating back to 1991 are available in portable document format (PDF) on the BRFSS Web site under Questionnaires. You will need Acrobat Reader to view and print these documents.

Is the BRFSS questionnaire available in languages other than English?

The questionnaire is also available in Spanish, in the Questionnaires section of this site.

How are home telephone numbers obtained?

Home telephone numbers are obtained through random-digit dialing.

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Why are there links to the State Cancer Profiles Web site on the BRFSS Web site?

BRFSS provides women's health and colorectal cancer screening measures based on the Healthy People 2010 cancer objectives. The State Cancer Profiles Web site is a joint collaboration between CDC and the National Cancer Institute (NCI), whose aim is to provide dynamic views of cancer statistics for prioritizing cancer control efforts at the national, state, and county level. The State Cancer Profiles site includes the measures on the BRFSS site as well as other measures that are integral to comprehensive cancer control planning and implementation.

Questions related to prostate cancer screening were first asked on the 2002 BRFSS questionnaire. BRFSS includes measures on prostate cancer screening, but State Cancer Profiles does not. Discussions are underway between CDC and NCI to determine whether prostate cancer screening measures should be included on State Cancer Profiles.

Do I need to obtain permission to use the BRFSS questionnaire or portions of the questionnaire for my own work? Do I need to obtain permission when publishing or otherwise disseminating graphs and tables based on BRFSS data?

Generally, data and materials produced by federal agencies are in the public domain and may be reproduced without permission. However, we do ask that any published material derived from the data acknowledge CDC's BRFSS as the original source.

Suggested Citation for Survey Questions:
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System Survey Questionnaire. Atlanta, Georgia: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, [appropriate year].

Suggested Citation for Online BRFSS Database:
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System Survey Data. Atlanta, Georgia: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, [appropriate year].

For more information on citations and keywords, visit

How are BRFSS data weighted? And what post-stratification variables are used when weighting BRFSS data?

BRFSS data are directly weighted for the probability of selection of a telephone number, the number of adults in a household, and the number of telephones in a household. A final poststratification adjustment is made for nonresponse and noncoverage of households without telephones. The weights for each relevant factor are multiplied together to get a final weight.
Please see Technical Documentation for further details.

What is BRFSS doing to reduce health disparities?

BRFSS does a variety of things to address health disparities, including

  • The BRFSS Web site provides data for five demographic variables: race, gender, age, income, and education. The Web site also offers prevalence tables to help users research health disparities across the nation, and in their own states by sorting health risk factor data by race, gender, age, income, or education. BRFSS datasets allow users to download entire datasets and use a statistical software program (SAS, SUDAAN, etc) to sort it by multiple variables.
  • BRFSS provides data that allows researchers, state health departments, and others investigate health topics by a variety of factors including race, age, gender, and others. A number of health disparities papers have been published using BRFSS data, and some of them can be found using the BRFSS Bibliography.

Does BRFSS provide information related to access to health care?

Yes. The 2008 BRFSS Questionnaire includes four questions about health insurance, regular care provider, and last health checkup. Prevalence data by state can be sorted by race, gender, age, income, or education by using the “grouping” menu at the top right of the data page.

I have other questions. Whom should I ask?

All questions should be directed to your BRFSS state coordinator. Up-to-date contact information can be found on the BRFSS State Coordinator list.

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* Links to non-Federal organizations are provided solely as a service to our users. Links do not constitute an endorsement of any organization by CDC or the Federal Government, and none should be inferred. The CDC is not responsible for the content of the individual organization Web pages found at this link.

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Page last reviewed: 11/25/2008
Page last updated: 11/25/2008

United States Department of Health and Human Services
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion
Division of Adult and Community Health