Context: There is high demand for local-level population health data. A national system of state and local data collection would help improve both population health and health care delivery. The primary source of state-level population health data for adults is the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System. However, many states need data on children and adolescents, racial and ethnic subpopulations, consistent estimates for localities, or more in-depth information on key topics than the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System provides. Eleven state health surveys (SHSs) have emerged in an effort to address these gaps.
Design: Semistructured telephone interviews were conducted in 2009 with representatives of 9 SHSs. The interviews were recorded, and data were transcribed, organized, and analyzed according to the query structure. This analysis identified (1) the core elements of SHS that have been successful in meeting needs for local data and (2) the processes and strategies used by state officials in creating these surveys.
Results: Key findings include the following: (1) SHSs provide concrete data on local health issues that meet the needs of policy makers who wish to adopt evidence-based public health policies; (2) data from SHSs allow researchers to identify issues, apply for grants, and evaluate, assess, and track health indicators; (3) a “champion” is required to build the case for a survey and push through barriers to obtain funding and stakeholder buy-in; and (4) SHSs face challenges such as inconsistent funding and lack of uniform standards.
Conclusion: Opportunities to support SHSs include (1) identifying sustained funding sources; (2) providing technical assistance and facilitating training to foster best practices, quality standards, and comparability across states; and (3) supporting an organization for SHS researchers to share resources, information, and experiences.