BRFSS Core and Module Data
The Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) is a national survey coordinated by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to measure risk factors and disease in the US population.
The CDC is awesome in that it posts data and documentation anyone can download and analyze. However, it’s important to understand the data and organizational structure for BRFSS before you download and analyze the data.
Federal and State BRFSS organization
The BRFSS is organized at the federal level, by the CDC. However, it’s the state health departments that actually do the data collection and give the data to the CDC. There are issues that the CDC is concerned with studying. But then there are also local issues that are different in each state. Here are some examples:
- In Washington state, public health and labor officials were concerned with the healthcare coverage gap between low- and high-income workers.
- In Massachusetts, researchers studied the incidence of varicella and herpes zoster
- In Florida, public health officials studied the association between stroke mortality and socioeconomic, racial, and behavioral correlates.
Cores vs. Modules
The CDC and the states have an arrangement to makes each get the data they need.
- The CDC has core questions that all states have to ask.
- States can add optional modules, or approved questionnaires on a topic.
How do I get the data?
Every year, the dataset with the answer to the core questions from all the states is available for download.
However, the module data are not. And the modules that states do change every year. Here is an example of the list of modules used by states in the 2014 BRFSS.
If you want module data, you will have to contact the state health departments directly. From personal experience, I’ve found that these places often do not have the data set up for sharing. Their own analysts might have worked with it, but they don’t have proper documentation or other policies to make it easy to give out.
If you really want module data and you are willing to work with the state department of health that has it, it is possible you can get it. However, you cannot link it to the core data on the CDC website. If you need any core and module data together, you will have to get that all from the state.