CDC Releases New Local Health Surveillance Data

Nations Health. 2003;33(10) 

Localized public health information on issues ranging from uninsurance to alcohol consumption is now available to health officials, thanks to a new analysis of nationwide data.

On Nov. 18, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced the debut of the Selected Metropolitan/Micropolitan Area Risk Trends from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, or SMART BRFSS, at a news conference at APHA's 131st Annual Meeting in San Francisco. The new analysis, which provides health information for 98 county clusters for 2002, will be the first time health officials can access local data that are comparable across the country.

While the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System has been in place for almost 20 years, tracking health risks on a national scale, the new local analysis will allow health workers to compare the health of a particular community to the health of the nation.

"(This survey) is the eyes and ears of public health in regard to the conditions that are killing us," said Alonzo Plough, PhD, MPH, director and health officer at the public health department of Seattle and King County.

Plough, who represented the National Association of County and City Health Officials at the news conference, noted that the new localized data will help make the case that more resources are needed to fight chronic disease, the largest threat to public health.

"It's going to help us in an economic and political mode," he said.

Georges Benjamin, MD, FACP, APHA's executive director, agreed with Plough's assessment.

"In public health, we want to make sure we spend taxpayers' dollars wisely," he said at the news conference.

The new localized analysis of the national surveys, which are conducted in English and Spanish, gather information on health factors such as diabetes, obesity, colorectal cancer screening and more. For example, the surveillance system found that Ohio has a lower average uninsurance rate than the nation, while having higher rates of smoking, obesity and diabetes. The results are broken down even more into metropolitan areas, such as individual statistics for the Akron and Toledo, Ohio, metropolitan areas.

"If we are to create a culture of health, we need to look to our communities to make that happen," said Donna Nichols, MSEd, CHES, director of public health promotion at the Texas Department of Health and a representative of the Association of State and Territorial Directors of Health Promotion and Public Health Education, at the news conference.

Although the localized analysis was a one-time project, CDC officials hope it is the start of an ongoing process in which data will be available for other years and geographic areas.

"Just as communities use economic indicators to compare themselves to other similar communities, these data enable communities to compare their health status as they never could before," said James Marks, MD, MPH, director of CDC's National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion.

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-- Kim Krisberg