Fellows learn about BRFSS data on trends in health

This is a guest post from Lara Salahi, of ABC News. She is one of 11 AHCJ-CDC Health Journalism Fellows visiting the CDC this week.

I’ve been assigned the disease topic, perhaps even given the gist of the headline. And now I’ve got a few good hours to meet my deadline.


The 2010 AHCJ-CDC fellows take a break from their busy week in Atlanta. They are: (front row) Raymond Hainer, Health.com / Time Inc.; Meredith Matthews, Current Health Teens magazine/Weekly Reader; Ruby de Luna, KUOW-Seattle Public Radio; Kevin McCarthy, Consumer Reports/Consumers Union; (second row) Margaret Haskell, Bangor Daily News; Felice Freyer, The Providence Journal; Katherine Harmon, Scientific American; (back) Lara Salahi, ABC News; Rong Lin II, Los Angeles Times; Miranda Van Gelder, Martha Stewart Living; and Jori Lewis, freelance journalist & radio producer.

The patient story: compelling.

The expert opinion: piece of cake.

But finding accurate and current data that will pull the story into perspective? Suddenly I can hear the minutes taken from writing ticking away, one hour of research at a time.

Chalk this scenario up on the list of “You know you’re a daily reporter/producer when…” you’re the only one who wishes there were more hours in a workday.

Readers and viewers want to know how common a health issue is in their state, or whether a health trend has increased or decreased over time.

The CDC website is so expansive; it’s hard to tell where to start. But the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, or BRFSS, is a quick link to bookmark. BRFSS publishes annual prevalence and trends data on health issues such as diabetes, health care access, and oral health.

Lina Balluz, acting director of the Division of Behavior Surveillance at the CDC’s National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, walked the AHCJ-CDC Health Journalism Fellows through finding the analyzed self-reported data from telephone-based questionnaires.

BRFSS is one of the fastest data collection methods analyzed on a given health issue, said Balluz. The system includes national data, stratified by states. It’s one tool that may help add perspective to a story and cut the time spent searching.

Editor’s note: For help finding additional information on the CDC website, we recommend AHCJ’s “Navigating the CDC: A Journalist’s Guide to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Web Site.”

Other dispatches from the AHCJ-CDC Health Journalism Fellows:

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