The Rapid Risk Factor Surveillance System (RRFSS) – Canada

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The Rapid Risk Factor Surveillance System (RRFSS) is an ongoing telephone survey used to gather surveillance data, monitor public opinion on key public health issues, and collect information on emerging issues of importance to public health. The purpose of RRFSS is to provide timely data relevant to local public health needs in participating Public health Units (PHUs). RRFSS is used to monitor key public health issues and to collect information on emerging issues (PHAC).

The Rapid Risk Factor Surveillance System (RRFSS) began in 1999 as a pilot telephone survey of adults aged 18 years and older in Durham Region. The pilot project was a joint partnership between Health Canada, the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, Cancer Care Ontario and the Durham Region Health Department. The idea was to pilot test a risk factor survey based on the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) used in each state in the U.S.A. (RRFSS 2007).

The survey is conducted by the Institute for Social Research (ISR) at York University on behalf of all the RRFSS-participating health units. From June to October 1999, a random sample of approximately 200 Durham Region residents was surveyed each month. Respondents were asked about various lifestyle behaviors associated with chronic diseases and disability, such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes,  and injuries, in particular behaviors such as smoking use, sun safety, fruit and vegetable consumption, physical activity, among others,  that are targeted by public health programs.

Following the successful pilot project, the Durham Region Health Department decided to continue with RRFSS and was soon joined by the Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health Unit and the Simcoe County District Health Unit. These three health units formed the RRFSS Working Group. In 2000, the RRFSS Working Group reviewed and revised the questionnaire. By the end of 2000, 3 more health units had joined the RRFSS Working Group; Region of Peel Health Services, Middlesex-London Health Unit and Niagara Regional Public Health Department. In January 2001, the next cycle of RRFSS began. Interest in RRFSS continued to grow and in 2007, there were 21 RRFSS-participating health units.