The International Electronic Journal of Health Education

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IEJHE, Vol. 2(1),59-60, January 1, 1999, Copyright 1999

Web-based Tutorials on How to Download Data from the U.S. Bureau of Census and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Innovations in Teaching Technology Part II

Priya Banerjee, M.A.1; Mark J. Kittleson, Ph.D.1;
1 Health Education, Southern Illinois University

Corresponding author: Priya Banerjee, M.A., Doctoral Candidate, Pulliam 307, MS 4632, Southern Illinois University; 618.453.2777 (phone), 618.453.1829 (fax),


In order to create programs, and provide services that fully meet the needs of people, health educators must have a thorough knowledge of the nature of the community to which they must cater. In a Vital Statistics course at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, fledgling health educators practice the art of gathering demographic information. As mentioned in the preceding article, learning how to tap into the information superhighway, and process and organize the data obtained from it, is not only an important component of this course, but is an important skill for an accomplished health educator.

A series of Web-based tutorials created specifically for the course, guide students through the steps involved in downloading and processing data from the U.S. Bureau of Census and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. These entities maintain comprehensive databases of all the regions of the United States and access to the data is free of cost. All it takes is learning the skill to negotiate the databases successfully, in order to obtain the required information.

The first Web-based tutorial deals with how to download data from the U.S. Bureau of Census. The students enrolled in the course can log on to the Internet on their time, and go to the instructor's web-page. There they can download the tutorial or simply view it on their computer screen. The tutorial is created using Microsoft PowerPoint and graphically presents the exact steps the students need to access the 1990 U.S. Census LOOKUP Servers, or the interactive data retrieval systems set up by the U.S. Bureau of Census. LOOKUP is an experimental server that contains summary tape files of the 1990 census. For maximum effect, students must actually access the Census Bureau database and the tutorial simultaneously. Using arrows and text, each frame of the tutorial depicts the precise commands and areas students need to click to move forward through the database. There are several options available in the database - 1) the Summary Tape File 1A or STF1A, which is a hundred percent count of a short version of a socioeconomic and demographic survey administered during the 1990 census, 2) the Summary Tape File 3A, a sample count of a long version of the same survey, 3) Summary Tape File 1C and Summary Tape File 3C contain national, state, county and metropolitan statistical area counts, 4) Summary Tape File 1D and 3D provide information about the 103rd Congressional Districts and 5) the Summary Tape file 3B provides information through ZIP codes. If they are looking for comprehensive data, students can click on the STF3A.

Next, the tutorial proceeds into instructing how to choose the required County and State. At this point, the database presents a series of tables to choose from. As an example, the tutorial selects the local County and State. After clicking the "submit" button, the students can choose from a variety of variables. The variables range from universal population counts to specific household demographics taking into account race, age and gender classifications. After selecting the variables of interests, students can receive the data in hypertext markup language or HTML formats and then copy the tables in to their favorite word processing program. The tutorial provides very specific directions and is easy to follow.

The second tutorial instructs students in how to access CDC WONDER, a system set up by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. CDC WONDER is a single source of access to a variety of CDC reports, guidelines, vital statistics and other public health data. It was set up to speed up and simplify access to public health information for state and local health departments, the Public Health Service, the academic public health community and the public at large (CDC, 1998). By accessing CDC WONDER, students can search for and retrieve current articles published by CDC in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report and Prevention Guidelines. Students can also request numerical data including incidence reports, mortality and morbidity data associated with specific diseases. The tutorial guides the students through the process of logging in to CDC WONDER and selecting the required database. If a student is looking for information on death rates in a particular county, they may access the mortality database and then select the county of their choice. The tutorial also provides information on the type of format in which to request data. CDC WONDER offers the option of receiving data via e-mail which is in an ASCII or text-only format. This, the tutorial instructs, is easiest to handle, if the students are interested in analyzing it further by incorporating it in a spreadsheet.

By creating these two tutorials, students enrolled in the Vital Statistics course can learn important skills and pretend they have private tutors instructing them outside of class! The next article will describe the remaining tutorials which deal with the next step: once the data is downloaded, what can be done with it?


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (1998). What is CDC WONDER? [Online] Available:

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Copyright 1999 by IEJHE.