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‘Using data presentation tools to highlight results of the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System Survey’


For over 26 years, the US Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) has gathered information from adults about a wide range of behaviors that affect the health of its citizens. The BRFSS is a collaborative effort between the state health departments and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is now the primary source of state-based information on health risk behaviors among adult populations.

The primary focus of these surveys has been on behaviors that are linked with the leading causes of death (such as heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes, and injury) and other important health issues.

BRFSS data is used to: determine priority health issues and develop strategic plans; monitor the effectiveness of intervention measures; examine the achievement of prevention program goals and support appropriate public health policy. It is also used to educate the public, the health community, and policy makers about disease prevention and health promotion.

Policy-makers, legislators, researchers, professional organizations, and community-based organizations all need to understand what the data is telling them. InstantAtlas, a data presentation tool, is currently being used Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services to produce easy-to-understand online reports.

Starting point

Montana is the fourth largest state in the US, with a land mass of 145,552 square miles, but with a population of less than million – an average of slightly more than six people for every square mile. We spoke to Dr. Joanne Oreskovich, BRFSS Director and Epidemiologist, at the Montana DPHHS. She explains that the population density presents some issues when it comes to mapping the BRFSS data. However, Montana BRFSS is able to oversample some geographic areas and weight the complex survey data to regional, rather than state-level prevalence estimates. Therefore, reports can be produced at the regional level.

Joanne says that the mapping project started with the 2008 BRFSS data and Heather Zimmerman, MPH, BRFSS Epidemiologist has found it easy to work with and to produce results which people without training in GIS systems are able to manipulate.

state health profiling

Montana Regional Health Profile Report, 2010 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance Survey

Starting point

The Montana BRFSS data is now available in a user-friendly format which is important for those non-specialist users. The BRFSS team at the DPHHS has created new templates into which meta-data can be quickly loaded. This means that other datasets can now be included in the reports and the InstantAtlas tool is flexible yet robust enough to accommodate further data needs.

Expansion of the Mapping Capabilities

The Montana BRFSS program also participates in producing data reports for Community Health Assessments, one resource needed for Local and State Health departments as they seek voluntary accreditation. The accreditation process which is occurring throughout the United States Public Health system is geared toward setting performance standards, assessing and developing health improvement plans and strategically planning other activities for the quality improvements of the public health systems.

BRFSS staff believe that the use of data presentation tools, like InstantAtlas, will help when it comes to interpreting data and being able to readily use the data in local communities of Montana that seek accreditation. High performing systems will help communities across the state to reach their health aspirations of disease prevention and health promotion. Resources, like BRFSS, and tools, such as InstantAtlas, will assist states in building stronger evidence based public health practices.

health care access reporting & monitoring

Montana Metropolitan | Micropolitan Statistical Area Profile (BRFSS)

Key benefits

  • BRFSS data is presented in a user-friendly way
  • Time is being saved when producing BRFSS reports
  • A wide audience of non-specialist users can access and understand survey data
  • Data presentation tools are helping the BRFSS team meet its objectives

Other InstantAtlas global public safety stories and reports that will interest you

The Institute for Health Policy, University of Texas Health - Making data available to the community through easy-to-use data presentation tools

Global Health Reporting- Compilation of international health stories

How a Public Health Organization is using data presentation to aid the policy-making process

AEDI (Australia) - Using interactive reports to show a nation’s progress in early childhood development

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News and Articles


Arizona Department of Health Services | ‘Making data presentation meaningful when dealing with low rates of population density’


The Institute for Health Policy, School of Public Health, University of Texas | ‘Making data available to the community through easy-to-use data presentation tools’


Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) – ”How the Pan American Health Organization is using data presentation to aid the policy-making process”