A shot in the arm: National health survey starts today | PostIndependent.com

A shot in the arm: National health survey starts today

Heather McGregor
Post Independent Editor
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Kelley Cox Post Independent

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado – In a dry run Tuesday, medical staff with the Centers for Disease Control interviewed, weighed, drew blood from and took X-ray body scans of local volunteers.

Today and for the next five weeks, the health exams and questions will be for real as 412 county residents go through the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.

Exams and interviews will take place in a cluster of four specially outfitted semi trailers, joined by a crosswide center corridor, in the parking lot of the Glenwood Meadows shopping center. The trailers have a reception area, small exam rooms, interview rooms, an x-ray room and a medical laboratory, all joined by narrow corridors.

It’s one of three such mobile exam centers traveling the country, collecting data.

Inside, a doctor, a dentist and 16 other medical specialists will gather all sorts of health and diet information from the 412 people, in groups of about 10 people at a time. Residents were selected randomly in an effort to find people who meet certain demographic parameters for age, gender and ethnicity.

For infants and toddlers, the exam will take a half hour or less. For teens and adults, the typical exam time is two to three hours, said Jacque DeMatteis, spokeswoman for the survey.

In return, they’ll be paid to participate – $125 for adults, $75 for teens and $50 for children – plus $40 for each of four post-exam measures that they carry out. In addition, participants will receive a written report on their health indicators, providing a detailed health baseline worth about $4,900.

For the first time in the 50-year history of the survey, Garfield County was chosen to be one of 15 counties across the country to participate. The data collected from local participants will be merged with data from a total of 7,000 people in the 15 counties surveyed this year to create a representative picture of national health and nutrition in the country’s population.

The survey will run for five weeks, in the daytime and evening hours, weekdays and weekends, in an effort to accommodate the schedules of the local participants.

Before the participants show up at the survey trailers, a technician will visit their home and carry out a short interview of the person’s health history.

A typical exam will include:

• An interview to obtain a thorough list of everything the person ate and drank the day before, including quantities

• Height and weight measures

• Cholesterol and blood pressure

• Breathing ability

• Dental exam

• Whole-body X-ray to measure body fat

• Hearing test

• Testing for heart disease, kidney disease, tuberculosis and diabetes

Cliff Johnson, the national director of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey for the past 35 years, is in Glenwood Springs this week to make sure the Garfield County survey launches smoothly.

Johnson said the survey focuses on a group of health parameters for a two-year period to gather a full picture of trends in the country. For the next two-year period, some tests will be replaced.

“Issues of public health change over time. We rotate the content of the survey to react to these issues,” Johnson said.

For example, the survey looked at exposure to tuberculosis about eight years ago, then dropped that test. Now it’s back in the mix to see if the numbers have changed, he said.

A key focus of the 2011 and 2012 exams is obesity and fitness.

“Overweight and obesity is probably one of the most prevalent public health issues today,” Johnson said.

By asking people questions about their diet and daily exercise, and then testing for body fat, cholesterol, blood pressure and diabetes, the survey can correlate what people think and do about their health compared to test results.

“When we look at diabetes, the self-reported prevalence of people who say they have diabetes is 7 to 8 percent. But from this survey we know there’s another 4 to 5 percent who have diabetes that’s undiagnosed,” Johnson said.

One of the post-exam measures is for each participant to wear an activity monitor 24 hours a day for a full week. The monitor – about the size of a chunky wristwatch – measures movement and exercise that can later be compared to the person’s other health indicators.

Again, perceptions differ from reality, Johnson said. “About 35 percent of people believe they are meeting national guidelines for exercise. But our use of these activity monitors reveals that just 3 to 5 percent are actually meeting the guidelines.”

DeMatteis emphasized that all this data is separated from the participant’s name immediately, and each person’s exam and interview results are just tied to a number.

She also noted that Garfield County’s data will be blended in with all 15 of this year’s counties right away, and the agency will not produce a report focused just on the results of health exams taken here.

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