BRFSS Frequently Asked Questions
The Iowa BRFSS is a telephone survey of randomly selected adult Iowans conducted on a monthly basis to collect data on health behaviors that contribute to the leading causes of death and chronic disease. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) developed the BRFSS in collaboration with states in the early 1980's and all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and three territories participate in the BRFSS. The BRFSS is the largest, continuously conducted telephone health survey in the world. The Iowa BRFSS was fully initiated in 1988. The BRFSS is an important public health tool for measuring adult health by reaching out directly to adult Iowans to learn more about chronic disease prevalence, risk behaviors, demographics, health care access, and preventive behaviors. Public and private health authorities at the federal, state, and local levels rely on BRFSS to identify public health problems, design policies and interventions, set goals, and measure progress towards those goals.
The Iowa BRFSS survey is being conducted to collect health-related information to monitor the health of adult Iowans. Data from the survey are used to provide information about health behaviors and chronic conditions to identify what prevention efforts are working and what next steps are needed for improving the health of Iowans.
Behavioral risk factors are things that can exert a strong influence on an individual’s health. Risk factors can include things like tobacco use, alcohol consumption, physical activity and diet, immunization status, disease screening, and routine medical care.
The Iowa BRFSS includes questions about: chronic disease prevalence (e.g., ever diagnosed with diabetes?), risk behaviors (e.g., smoking cigarettes), demographics (e.g., age), health care utilization (e.g., health insurance coverage), and preventive behaviors (e.g., cancer screenings). Questions about timely or emerging public health topics such as disaster preparedness or disease outbreaks may also be included on the survey.
Adults 18 years and older can participate in the BRFSS surveys.
The information gathered from the Iowa BRFSS is extremely important to support data-driven public health work across the state. Answers from this survey are used to identify emerging health problems, establish and track health objectives, and develop and evaluate public health policies and programs.
The Iowa Department of Health and Human Services has been administering the BRFSS since 1988. An agreement with the University of Northern Iowa, Center for Social and Behavioral Research has been established to conduct and complete the calls for Iowa.
All interviewers will state that they are calling on behalf of the Iowa Department of Health and Human Services and all interviewers are trained on CDC protocols. The interviewer will state the purpose of the call and ask permission to perform the interview.
You were randomly selected based on your phone number. We receive a list of both listed and unlisted phone numbers in your area and randomly pick whom to call. This is called random sampling. All adult Iowans with a phone have an equal chance of being selected to participate in this survey.
The national Do Not Call List was enacted to control telemarketing companies that sell services and products over the phone. Research calls are not included in the federal regulations that apply to telemarketing calls. The BRFSS survey is conducted for research and does not fall under current do-not-call list laws. Iowa HHS is not selling anything and you can choose to not participate, but your answers will help us to evaluate and guide important public health policy and programs.
We strongly encourage you to participate. Your participation is very important to accurately represent all types of adults in Iowa, regardless of health status. Survey participation is voluntary; however we cannot select anyone else to replace you if you were selected and do not participate, which may mean that people like you could be underrepresented in our state’s prevalence estimates. By participating, you perform a valuable public service to your family, community, and state. For those of you who have already participated, we thank you.
Yes. We do not collect identifying personal information. We only ask questions regarding your demographic characteristics. Questions on county of residence and zip code are included in the survey, but participants can refuse to answer any questions that they think may be too personal.
No services you receive from governmental agencies (Medicare, Medicaid, etc.) will be affected if you choose to participate in the survey. The survey is completely anonymous and will not change any services you may receive from governmental agencies.
The survey typically takes participants between 20-30 minutes to complete. Time can vary depending on how you answer the questions and the number of questions you qualify for. If the survey length becomes a concern during the interview, then a second call can be scheduled at a more convenient time to ask the remaining questions.
The Iowa BRFSS surveys are conducted in English and Spanish.
Results of the Iowa BRFSS survey are publicly available through the following resources:
Results of the Iowa BRFSS survey is publicly available through the following resources:
Iowa BRFSS Annual Reports and County Level Rates: https://hhs.iowa.gov/brfss
Iowa Public Health Tracking Portal for data related to general health status, and rates of diabetes, substance use, tobacco use, and obesity.
State and National Prevalence Rates: https://www.cdc.gov/brfss/brfssprevalence/index.html
The Iowa BRFSS program has a data request form where requests for additional rates/counts as well as access to the raw datasets can be made. The turnaround time for most summary data requests (rates/counts) is a minimum of two weeks. After submitting your request, you can expect a response within 3 business days.
Beginning with the 2011 dataset, the national BRFSS program started to make calls to cell-phone numbers and adopted a new weighting method. As a result of the changes made in 2011, it is recommended to use 2011 as a baseline to compare to future years. Estimates produced prior to 2011 should not be compared to estimates produced in 2011 or later years.
The Iowa BRFSS relies on information reported directly by respondents living in Iowa, so it may be subject to a number of sources of possible error. The way that questions are worded may elicit responses in a certain way and can result in what is called "measurement error." Similarly, the ability to accurately recall details varies by person and how much time has passed since the event they are trying to recall, which leads to "response error." It is also possible that the people who choose to participate are different from those who choose to not participate. Interviews are conducted only in English and Spanish in Iowa, so adults who are not able to be interviewed in English or Spanish are not included. Households without telephones are not contacted. Thus, BRFSS findings can only be generalized to English and Spanish speaking adults living in households with telephones. This is called “selection bias.”
These sources of bias do not change significantly from year to year, so results can be compared over time to determine if the prevalence of a given condition or behavior is increasing or decreasing, which is usually what we want to know.
Some rates at sub-state levels cannot be released due to a small sample size. The Iowa BRFSS is collected at the state level, and even though respondents report their zip code and county, sometimes, these rates cannot be reported outright, in order to protect the confidentiality of our participants. This might be the case for reporting results by counties as well as some variables that are reported by different demographics, such as race/ethnicity. Reporting results based on small counts can lead to an unreliable interpretation. If you have further questions about small counts or sub-state prevalence rates, please submit your inquiry to BRFSS@idph.iowa.gov.
BRFSS is intended to be a state-level survey. Although the Iowa BRFSS collects information such as ZIP code and county, the BRFSS program puts the confidentiality of our participants first. If and when there is a request for sub-state level BRFSS data, reliability of estimates may become much less accurate due to small counts within zip codes and/or counties in Iowa. Some data at the county level has been provided under the “Data by County” section of the main Iowa BRFSS program page. If you have specific requests, please fill out this data request form, and a member of the BRFSS team will be in contact with you.