Iowa BRFSS Frequently Asked Questions

The Iowa BRFSS is currently being conducted. We appreciate you taking the time to participate in the Iowa BRFSS. If you have already responded to our survey, thank you! If you have been notified that your household has been selected for a health survey and you are thinking about becoming a survey participant, we hope these answers to some frequently asked questions will help you understand why your participation is so important. If you have any additional questions or concerns, please call the Iowa BRFSS Coordinator, Eliza Daly, at 515-322-3213, or submit a question online through the IDPH BRFSS Contact Us system. 

General Information

What is the Iowa Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS)?

Why is this survey being done?

What is a "Behavioral Risk Factor"?

What topics are covered during the interview?

Who can participate in the Iowa BRFSS?

What does IDPH do with the survey answers/results/data?

Where can I get more information about this program?

BRFSS Survey Participant Information

How can I know whether the call is legitimate or a scam?

How are interview participants selected?

Why are you calling me? I'm on the Do Not Call List. 

Do I have to participate in the survey if I'm called?

Is my information kept confidential?

Will any governmental services I recieve be affected if I choose to participate?

How long does the survey take?

What languages do you conduct the survey in?

Information on Using BRFSS Data

Where can I find the results of the Iowa BRFSS survey?

How can I request additional BRFSS data?

Can I compare BRFSS data across different years?

Are there limitations to the BRFSS data?

Can I obtain data at the ZIP code and/or county level?


General Information

Q: What is the Iowa Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS)?

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.

Q: Why is this survey being done?

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.

Q: What is a “Behavioral Risk Factor”?

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. 

Q: What topics are covered during the interview?

The Iowa BRFSS includes questions about: chronic disease prevalence (eg., ever diagnosed with asthma?), risk behaviors (e.g., currently smoke cigarettes), demographics (e.g., gender), health care utilization (e.g., have health insurance), and preventive behaviors (e.g., flu shot in the past year). Questions about timely or emerging public health topics such as disaster preparedness or disease outbreaks may also be included on the survey. 

Q: Who can participate in the Iowa BRFSS?

Adults 18 years and older can participate in the BRFSS surveys.

Q: What does IDPH do with the survey answers/results/data?

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.

Q: Where can I get more information about this program?

More information about the Iowa BRFSS can be found at https://idph.iowa.gov/brfss. Information about the national BRFSS program can also be found at https://www.cdc.gov/brfss/


BRFSS Survey Participant Information

Q: How can I know whether the call is legitimate or a scam?

The Iowa Department of Public Health 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 all interviewers are trained on CDC protocols. The interviewer will state the purpose of the call and ask permission to perform the interview.

Q: How are interview participants selected?

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.

Q: Why are you calling me? I’m on the Do Not Call List.

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. IDPH is not selling anything and you can choose not to participate, but your answers will help us to evaluate and guide important public health policy and programs.

Q: Do I have to participate in the survey if I’m called?

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.This could mean your particular health needs may be ignored. 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.

Q: Is my information kept confidential?

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.

Q: Will any government services I receive be affected if I choose to participate?

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. 

Q: How long does the survey take?

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 asked. 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.

Q: What languages do you conduct the survey in?

The Iowa BRFSS surveys are conducted in English and Spanish.


Information on Using BRFSS Data

Q: Where can I find the results of the Iowa BRFSS survey? 

Results of the Iowa BRFSS survey are publicly available through the following resources:

Q: How can I request additional BRFSS data? 

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.

Q: Can I compare BRFSS data across different years?

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.

For information about changes to the 2011 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, see the FAQ About Changes to the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System.

Q: Are there limitations to the BRFSS data?

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 through the Contact Us portal on the Iowa BRFSS website.

Q: Can I obtain data at the ZIP code and/or county level? 

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 here. 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.

Use the IDPH Contact Us system to submit a question online to the Iowa BRFSS Program.