Posted by on Aug 8, 2011

The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (aka NHANES) is one of the largest public health studies in the world. Sometimes referred to as the nation’s “check-up”, NHANES combines both interviews and physical examinations to asses the health of the nation. NHANES has been collecting health and nutrition data on the United States population since the 1970s, when the link between dietary habits and disease was first established.

There are approximately 5,000 individuals who visit the Mobile Exam Center (pictured above) each year. These trailers contain state-of-the-art medical equipment and travel across the United States. Exams are conducted in fifteen counties per year, and census data is used to help ascertain a demographically representative sample of the population.  It takes 3-4 hours for an adult to complete all of the exams, and study participants receive their results and are are compensated for their time.

NHANES data are used by doctors, researchers and health related organizations worldwide, as well as our own government. The data informs US public health policy, health programs and services, and has also been used to set national standards. For example, the pediatric growth charts in nearly every doctor’s office are based on data from NHANES. Other historical contributions that have stemmed from NHANES are the removal of lead from gasoline, the fortification of grains with iron, and the link between folate deficiency and neural tube birth defects. NHANES is a continuous study that monitors obesity, diabetes, and blood pressure trends, as well as being on the lookout for other trends on the rise.

For five years I have traversed the United States as a dietary interviewer on NHANES.  I am part of a 16-person medical examination team that travels together from city to city, spending approximately 4-6 weeks in each location. What surprises most people is that we live in hotels and have no home base. When we finish in one city, we pack up and report to work in the next city with some time off in between for travel. So far I’ve lived in over 30 cities and have interviewed over 5,000 people, – young and old, in English and Spanish, in big cities and small rural towns- and I’ve truly gotten an inside perspective on what Americans eats!

For more information on NHANES please visit here.


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