December 15, 2022
The Orange County Register
By Teri Sforza
Attention, Orange County! Here’s a new one for your “Responsibilities of An Outstanding Citizen” list: After “vote (yay!)” and “respond to jury summons (arrrrgh!),” add “participate in the CDC’s National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.”
Yes, O.C. has been randomly selected as one of 15 regions to be poked and prodded for public health data that will help shape national policy. Hundreds of locals will get postcards and/or letters from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services — don’t freak out — asking for their participation in NHANES, as the survey is called.
Some 300 to 400 of them will ultimately be asked to come to its tractor-trailers-turned-high-tech-medical-examination-facility at the O.C. Fairgrounds for real, live, in-person exams after the new year.
What’s this all about, you ask? Well, NHANES serves as the “nation’s annual health check-up,” and the data it gathers helps policymakers address “critical health concerns such as obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease,” the CDC said by way of explanation. “Public health officials, legislators and physicians use this information to develop sound health policies, direct and design health programs, and services, and expand the health knowledge of the nation.”
You know those growth charts that pediatricians use to ensure kids are developing normally? That’s data gathered by NHANES. Fortifying foods with folic acid to help prevent birth defects? That was an outgrowth of data gathered by NHANES. Environmental health issues? NHANES data led to the removal of lead from gasoline and paint.
The survey keeps tabs on issues like high blood pressure and diabetes and informs other agencies — such as the Food and Drug Administration — about nutritional needs, said Dr. Tony Nguyen, chief medical director for NHANES. This year, a big focus will be on how we’re recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We can’t monitor the health of the nation without Orange County’s help,” Nguyen said at at online presser Wednesday, Dec. 14. “If you are one of the lucky few and your home was selected, you represent 65,000 people.”
This is an awesome opportunity to better understand the health of our local population, said Regina Chinsio-Kwong, the county’s health officer.
“We’re one of the lucky counties to be selected — only 15 were selected for this unique survey,” she said. If you get a postcard or letter, “please participate. This is such a unique opportunity to really learn about the health risk factors and conditions that our community faces.”
Before you jump up to raise your hand, know that it’s “invitation only,” and participants are chosen at random. If you’re one of them, the first step is to fill out a quick online questionnaire. If someone in your household is eligible to take part, you’ll be contacted by NHANES to set up a phone chat, followed by a live health examination at that crazy mobile examination center. You’ll be compensated for travel costs, as well as child care if that’s an issue.
“While no medical care is provided directly in the mobile examination center, a report on physical findings is given to each participant, along with an explanation of those findings from survey medical staff,” the CDC says. “All information collected in the survey is kept confidential and individual privacy is protected by law.”
NHANES is the most comprehensive survey of the health and nutritional status of the U.S. population, and has been traveling across the nation gathering data since 1960. It’s conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics, part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and has never had a data breach. All the information collected on participants is “de-identified,” so you’re essentially reduced to a series of numbers.
The mobile exam center will be at the fairgrounds from January to March, and the public will be invited to take a look in February. “Anyone in the community can come inside and see what it’s like, said Mercy Alvarenga, NHANES outreach coordinator. “It’s wonderful — four tractor-trailers linked up together.”
Only 5,000 people a year are invited to participate. So if you get one of those postcards, know that a largely overweight, hypertense, stressed-out nation is depending on you.
“NHANES collects a broad range of data that affect the lives of everyone in the country, regardless of age, addressing everything from air quality to the low-fat and ‘light’ foods found in grocery stores,” the CDC says. “Now more than ever, collecting timely information on the status of the nation’s health is critical. An NHANES team of health professionals, nutritionists, and health technicians is heading to Orange County and urges everyone who has been selected for the survey to participate.”
Me, I’ll be watching my mailbox. More info? See www.cdc.gov/nchs/nhanes/participant.htm.
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