In public health research and practice, quality of life is increasingly acknowledged as a valid and appropriate indicator of service need and intervention outcomes. Health-related quality of life measures, including objective and subjective assessments of health, are particularly useful for evaluating efforts in the prevention of disabling chronic diseases. Such data can inform health policy, planning, and practice. Mechanisms for routinely monitoring quality of life of populations at the State and local levels are currently lacking, however. This article discusses the rationale for and concepts measured by four quality of life questions developed for the 1993 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, a State-based telephone surveillance system. To encourage quality of life surveillance by States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion held two related workshops, one in December 1991 and the other in June 1992. The workshops convened experts in quality of life and functional status measurement and resulted in the formulation of items for the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System on self-perceived health, recent physical and mental health, and recent limitation in usual activities. The criteria, including feasibility and generalizability, considered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the workshop participants in the selection and development of these items are discussed. A model that conceptualizes the relationship of quality of life domains measured by the four survey items is presented and validated with preliminary data from the 1993 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System. Finally, how States can use these measures to track progress towards the Year 2000 goal of improving quality of life is discussed.