Cell Phone Popularity a Barrier for Public Health Data Collection: More Americans Forgoing Phone Landlines

By Krisberg, Kim | The Nation's Health, September 2009 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Cell Phone Popularity a Barrier for Public Health Data Collection: More Americans Forgoing Phone Landlines

Krisberg, Kim, The Nation's Health


The growing use of cell phones has reshaped day-to-day lives, from being able to reach almost anyone at any time to putting the Internet in a person's pocket. And despite a few common gripes such as losing a signal or running out of minutes, cell phones have no doubt made life more convenient--for the most part.

There is at least one group of people for whom cell phones have become a bit of the proverbial thorn in the side: health researchers. The problem comes into play for researchers and surveyors who collect what is often essential health data via phone, relying on a randomized sampling of telephone numbers to bring back information and inform conclusions that users of such data can deem representative. Historically, this was not difficult--telephone numbers were readily available, corresponded with a person's geographic location and usually belonged to an adult. But today, growing numbers of people have no landline at all, only a cell phone, and general assumptions about who will be at the other end of a phone call are quickly shifting. Still, these are secondary concerns. The primary concern is whether cell phone numbers are included in the survey design in the first place--a less-than-easy task, but one that is becoming more important in gathering truly representative data on people's health and behaviors.

"The survey research industry is in a time of upheaval," said Stephen Blumberg, PhD, senior scientist with the National Center for Health Statistics at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "The survey modes and methods that worked reliably for the past decade or two need to be rethought. I fully expect that we will come out of this with new modes and new methods that continue to accurately reflect the behavior and attitudes of the public ... Right now is a time of challenge, but a time of interesting experiments and new opportunities."

Since 2003, the National Center for Health Statistics has been tracking the prevalence and characteristics of wireless-only--aka cell-phone only--users, putting out reports every six months on their numbers as well as their health-related behaviors. One such report, released in May, found that the "number of American homes with only wireless telephones continues to grow." According to "Wireless Substitution: Early Release Estimates from the National Health Interview Survey, July-December 2008," which Blumberg coauthored, more than 20 percent of surveyed homes had only wireless telephones during the second half of 2008, an increase of almost 3 percent from the first half of 2008--a number that represented the largest six-month growth in wireless-only users since the center began collecting such data. In addition, more than 14 percent of American homes received all or nearly all phone calls on cell phones despite also having a landline. The biggest predictor of whether a household is wireless-only is whether the residence is owned or rented, with renters four times as likely to be wireless-only.

The demographics and health statuses of wireless-only users make their inclusion in health surveys important as well. According to the May report, men and those living in or near poverty were more likely to live in households with only wireless phones as are black and Hispanic adults. Binge drinking, smoking and being uninsured were more likely among wireless-only users, researchers found, but they were also more likely to be physically active, more likely to report being in good health and more likely to have been tested for HIV.

Blumberg noted that even when controlling for age, income and home ownership, such health characteristic differences still persist and while the data isn't available to specifically explain why, Blumberg had some guesses. Perhaps, he said, "people who choose to be readily available to all of their friends, are those people who are more likely to drink and smoke with those friends .

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Cell Phone Popularity a Barrier for Public Health Data Collection: More Americans Forgoing Phone Landlines


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?