Over the last three decades, scientific evidence has clearly demonstrated how personal behaviors affect development of diseases. Smoking, physical inactivity, poor eating habits, obesity, alcohol abuse, and other risk factors can lead to a variety of chronic health problems—like heart disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes, or lung diseases.
Lifestyle behaviors increase the risk of communicable diseases such as AIDS, sexually transmitted diseases, and vaccine-preventable diseases. Injuries from violence and accidents also may be caused by behavioral risks.
As a result of this evidence, public health professionals are focusing on ways to help people change their behaviors to reduce risks and prevent illness or premature death.
To accomplish this, public health researchers need to gather information about health risks. How many people are at risk? What populations are most affected? Are there new or emerging health concerns which need to be addressed? Health agencies use this information to plan, implement and evaluate health education and disease prevention programs for the public.
These data are gathered through the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS). In the early 1980s, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) worked with several states, including Delaware, to create the BRFSS and address these behavioral health risks. This unique, state-based surveillance system is the largest continuously conducted telephone health survey in the world. The BRFSS includes all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and three territories. The sample is randomized by state, producing more accurate data for state planning. The state-based system allows states to add questions of local interest.
Delaware has been collecting behavioral risk factor data continuously since 1990. The Delaware Behavioral Risk Factor Survey (BRFS) is a random-sample telephone interview survey. Interviewing is conducted every month of every year, and data are analyzed on a calendar-year basis. The annual sample in Delaware is about 4,000 adults age 18 and older.
The partners in the BRFS are CDC, which provides funding and basic data analysis, and the Delaware Division of Public Health (DPH). Telephone interviewing and data entry are provided by Abt Associates, under contract with DPH.
The BRFS made methodological improvements in 2011 to address social and technological changes in telephone usage.