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Independent State Health Surveys: Responding to the Need for Local Population Health Data

Portnoy, Barry PhD; Craddock Lee, Simon J. PhD, MPH; Kincheloe, Jennifer PhD, MPH; Breen, Nancy PhD; Olson, Jean L. MD, MPH; McCormally, Judy BA; Brown, E. Richard PhD

Journal of Public Health Management and Practice: September/October 2014 - Volume 20 - Issue 5 - p E21–E33
doi: 10.1097/PHH.0b013e3182a9c0ce
Original Articles

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.

This study reports on the primary outcomes of key informant responses from state health survey leaders. The results provide other states with guidance for developing their own surveys, offer innovative solutions to common problems, and suggest opportunities to harmonize the existing surveys into a broader national system that meets the need for state and local health data.

Office of Disease Prevention, Office of the Director (Dr Portnoy), Health Services and Economics Branch, Applied Research Program, National Cancer Institute (Dr Breen), and Epidemiology Branch, Division of Cardiovascular Sciences, National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (Dr Olson), National Institutes of Health, Rockville, Maryland; Department of Clinical Sciences and Program in Population Sciences and Cancer Control, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas (Dr Lee); and UCLA School of Public Health (Dr Kincheloe) and UCLA Center for Health Policy Research (Dr Brown), University of California, Los Angeles (Dr Kincheloe). Ms McCormally is an independent consultant in Arlington, Virginia.


Correspondence: Barry Portnoy, PhD, Office of Disease Prevention, Office of the Director, National Institutes of Health, 6100 Executive Blvd, Room 2B03, Rockville, MD 20852 (

This article is based on a study conducted by the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research (University of California, Los Angeles) under contract number HHSN26 I 200800793P from the National Cancer Institute. Other funders include the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, the Office of Disease Prevention (National Institutes of Health Office of the Director), and the National Institute on Aging.

We dedicate this article to E. Richard (Rick) Brown, a nationally recognized public health leader who advocated for health care reform and pioneered the collection and broad dissemination of health survey data to influence policy.

The authors gratefully acknowledge Erin Peckham, MPH, Kimberly Miller, and Héctor Alcalá, MPH, who assisted with data collection; Partha Bhattacharyya, PhD, and John Phillips, PhD, National Institute on Aging; and Alyssa R. Grauman, MPH, National Cancer Institute.

The authors have no conflicts of interest to declare.

© 2014 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.