We live in a culture of instant information that floods us daily. One current hot topic is healthy behaviors. But what is a healthy behavior? And how do we know that what we read or hear is reliable?
Today, health is more than just daily vitamins and annual checkups. It is a way of life in which we actively choose and pursue healthy behaviors. For example, studies show that physical exercise and good nutrition help control weight and enhance cardiovascular fitness. We also know that seat belt use saves lives. These are all positive behaviors. So we wonder how many of us are doing things that either help us stay healthy or make us unhealthy. The best way to find out is by asking the public.
Almost 30 years ago, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) introduced the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance Survey (BRFSS) to ask these very questions of adults age 18 and older. The survey collects information on health risk behaviors, preventive health practices, and health care access issues that are all directly related to chronic disease and injury. It tracks actual practices rather than attitudes.
Each BRFSS uses the same standard questions developed by the CDC. Because of this, results can be reliably compared from the county level to the national level as well as within one year or over several years. This survey is conducted annually at the state and national level. We have completed a BRFSS here in Erie County five times since 1995.
In addition to being a way of life, health can also be a result of life. Some of us may want to live healthier but may not have the means or opportunity to do so. To determine this disparity, the BRFSS includes demographic questions like age, education, and income bracket.
Some of us may work or live in environments that are unhealthy, so the BRFSS asks about secondhand smoke at home and at our jobs or whether we spend a lot of time in the sun.
BRFSS data provides a snapshot of the good and not so good health behaviors of Erie County adults. Some behaviors change with age while others differ between genders, education levels, and income brackets. Looking at the results makes it easy to compare yourself to other county residents. Check to see how many of us really use seatbelts or exercise regularly.
We hope to conduct another BRFSS in Erie County. If you are contacted, remember that callers always provide their name, the name of the organization they represent, and a verification phone number that you can call to check on legitimacy. All information is confidential. And if there is information you don’t want to share, just refuse to answer the question.
To learn more about Erie County adult behaviors and how they compare to Pennsylvania, go to www.ecdh.org, click on Data, Statistics, and Reports and then Health Statistics.
Valerie Bukowski, Epidemiologist
Erie County Department of Health