Health behaviors are a leading cause of illness and death in the United States. Efforts to improve public health require information on the prevalence of health behaviors in populations — not only to target programs to areas of most need but also to evaluate the effectiveness of intervention efforts.

Telephone surveys, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, are a good way to assess health behaviors in populations. These data provide estimates at the national and state levels but often require multiple years of data to provide reliable estimates at the local level. With changes in telephone use (e.g., rapid decline in the ownership of landlines), innovative methods to collect data on health behaviors, such as in health care settings or through Internet-based surveys, need to be developed.