Who is “They”? The BRFSS, NHANES, and You!
“They say oat bran is good for you.”
When someone says to me something that starts with, “They say…” I often ask them, “Who’s they?” The person talking usually shrugs, but then I get excited.
“I’m “they”! I’m the “they”!”
..and it kind of freaks them out. But I really am the “they”. And you can be, too!
In the US, “They” is Usually BRFSS or NHANES
Well, not literally. “They” is usually the people who analyze and write up BRFSS or NHANES data. Like these people, who analyzed BRFSS data and came up with the finding that smokers who are trying to quit smoking are more likely to go to the dentist, and more likely to have lost six or more teeth.
Okay, I have to be honest – “these people” are me and my colleagues! But the point is, now we can say,
“They say smokers who are trying to quit are more likely to go to the dentist”
…all because my colleagues and I analyzed some BRFSS data and published it.
BRFSS and NHANES?
Yup. NHANES is pronounced “en-hanes”, like the underwear manufacturer. BRFSS is pronounced, well, BRFSS. They really should work on that abbreviation so it’s easier to pronounce.
BRFSS and NHANES are the main “surveillance systems” in the US. We aren’t talking NSA surveillance, we are talking CDC surveillance – for disease, death, and destruction.
- The BRFSS is a phone survey. They call and ask you about all your vices: drinking, smoking, not exercising. And all your diseases: diabetes, heart attack, depression. Because they call you on the phone, they can have do a lot of surveys. The 2014 BRFSS dataset was about n=450,000.
- The NHANES is an in-person survey. That way, they can measure you. The good thing about these data is you can’t lie about your weight and other things because they test you. (Maybe that’s the bad thing about these data!) In a way, it can be a bad thing, because the dataset is much smaller and it’s in a lot of pieces, whereas the BRFSS “core” dataset is all one big dataset. The 2012 NHANES dataset was about n=10,000.
Want to learn more about BRFSS and NHANES?
Check out this video from my course on Lynda.com.
Check out my Pinterest board of famous surveillance studies, including BRFSS and NHANES.
Check out my YouTube video about the steps to doing a BRFSS analysis and publishing it.
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