Data Content and Coverage


A number of surveys collect information on health, health care access, utilization, and quality. Some surveys are conducted at the national level, often sponsored by the federal government. Some surveys ask specifically about health status, such as the National Health Interview Survey, while others focus on other topics such as medical expenditures (the Medical Expenditure Panel Study) and collect only limited information on health status.

States and localities conduct their own surveys as well. For example, the state of Hawaii has conducted the Hawaii Health Survey since 1968. The Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System (PRAMS)—state-based but coordinated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)—surveys a sample of women in 13 states and the District of Columbia who recently gave birth to collect information on maternal behaviors before, during, and after pregnancy.

Most of these surveys collect data on race and ethnicity.11 In federally supported surveys, if racial and ethnic data are collected, the minimum OMB standards for the collection of these data must be followed. There are, however, no such standards for the collection of SEP data (although there is a standard way to classify occupation), nor for data on language use and acculturation. Because these surveys focus on health data collection, they do not contain extensive measures of SEP. (See the paper by O’Campo and Burke in Appendix C for a complete listing of what SEP measures are collected in these surveys.) Questions about educational attainment and occupation are often included in the surveys, but only very limited information on income and wealth is collected.

Most national surveys are designed to produce estimates for the nation as a whole, not specific racial and ethnic subgroups. Sample size limitations in many studies allow reliable estimates of health status or health care utilization for only the larger racial and ethnic groups—whites, blacks, and Hispanics. Some surveys do oversample12 certain minority groups (e.g., the


See the DHHS Directory of Health and Human Services Data Resources:


A specific population is oversampled when a survey interviews a disproportionately larger number of units (e.g., households or individuals) of that population than they constitute in the total population being sampled; for example, a survey that oversamples Hispanics will attempt to interview a higher proportion of Hispanics in the survey than Hispanics represent in the overall population. This is usually done in order to create a sample size of the specific population that is large enough to make statistically reliable estimates of the characteristics of the population.

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