Tuesday, June 12, 2012

New Survey Methodology Changes Uninsured, Smoking Rates

(Salt Lake City, UT) – New methodology used to conduct the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) survey, one of Utah’s most important sources of public health population data, has resulted in changes to Utah’s uninsured and smoking rates. The survey now includes interviews conducted by cellular telephone in addition to landline phones, and has also adopted a new weighting methodology.
As a result, the BRFSS now estimates 368,200 Utahns between the ages of 18-64, or 21.5 percent of this population, did not have health insurance in 2010. Under the old methodology, the estimate for this same population was 247,100 uninsured 18- to 64-year-olds, or 14.4 percent of that population.

Another health indicator impacted by the new methodology is Utah’s adult smoking rate. The new BRFSS estimates 220,000 Utah adults, or 11.2 percent of this population are smokers. The old methodology put the estimate on adult smokers at 175,000, or 8.8 percent of the adult population. This improved accuracy is critical for preventing tobacco use and providing services to those who want to quit.

Including cell phone users in the survey accounts for the increasing number of Utah households without landline phones, and also addresses an under-representation of males, adults with less formal education or lower household income, and racial and ethnic minorities.

However, the UDOH and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which oversees the survey, are quick to caution against misinterpretation of the changes in estimates that may result from the new survey design.

“It’s important to realize that shifts in prevalence estimates for 2011 might not represent actual changes in trends in risk factor prevalence in the population, but instead the changes may simply reflect improved methods of measuring these risk factors,” said Michael Friedrichs, UDOH Bureau of Health Promotion Epidemiologist.

In the coming months, the UDOH will be evaluating the effects of these changes on other public health indicators and publishing updated estimates online and in printed reports.

“Having more accurate data will allow us and our partners throughout the state to better target our efforts to help make Utah the healthiest state,” said UDOH Executive Director Dr. David Patton.

The BRFSS is a household health survey overseen by the CDC and conducted by individual state health departments. For more information on these methodology changes, please visit http://health.utah.gov/opha/publications/hsu/1206_BRFSSCell.pdf. The CDC also released a report outlining the changes to the BRFSS and showing their effect on national level estimates of some health indicators. The report can be found at http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm6122a3.htm?s_cid=mm6122a3_w.

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Media Contact:
Michael Friedrichs
Utah Department of Health