Mark Wilson Photo
Medical technician Joe Glynn takes measurements of John Hagstrom during a CDC National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey held at ENMU-R, Thursday morning.
Record Staff Writer
Four trailers sit parked at Eastern New Mexico University, looking nothing more than just that. But just like Doctor Who’s TARDIS, these traveling units are bigger on the inside, with a maze of halls and rooms where National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) data is being collected.
Conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), NHANES is a program that monitors the health and nutrition of the U.S. population based on a 5,000-person sample size. This data is then used to help develop health policies and programs.
Starting today, anonymous individuals selected as the sample size for data will start trickling in. Sometimes having 12 people for a given session, the study can consist of 15 different assessments depending on the individual’s age. The various tests can last anywhere from 20 minutes for an infant to three and a half hours for an elderly person. These assessments cover everything from height and weight basics to a full body scan.
Although a patient can refuse a section of evaluation at any time, it is hoped that patients will participate in every aspect of the study. Most tasks are quite simple, such as testing grip strength. There is also a dietary segment where the participant is asked about everything they ate or drank in the previous 25 hours. This latter one may be challenging on the memory, but the assessment itself is not particularly difficult.
Another potential part of the study, should an individual choose to take part, is the use of a physical activity monitor, a device worn for seven days before being mailed back to the CDC. Because this is an extra task, participants are compensated.
Other tests include a private health interview and a Dual X-Ray Absorptiometry (DXA), a low frequency x-ray that scans the entire body and gets a read on muscles and tissues as well as bones.
There is also a dental exam with special cameras to document fluorosis.
“This is the most comprehensive historic exam on gum health in the country,” said dentist John Cutter.
One test that is most likely to turn people away, according to Study Manager Janis Eklund, is in the phlebotomy sector: a blood test. But getting blood drawn is really not as bad as people think.
“Many have said they can’t even tell that blood is being taken,” Eklund said. Regardless, individuals can still opt out of this assessment. “If you say ‘No,’ we know it means no,” she said.
The 35 well-trained members of personnel conducting aspects of the survey are on the road 48 weeks out of the year to collect this data. And they usually stay on the same team to try an aim for consistency, said Rita Washko, M.D., the survey physician for Team Two, affectionately nicknamed “The Meccies.” She has been working with NHANES for eight years and among other things, evaluates patients for emotional illnesses, studies dispositions and is the safety officer, on hand in case someone falls or has a chronic illness episode.
With so much going on within a relatively small amount of space, the staff has created an organized and efficient system. Using a computer to monitor every individual’s movement from one station to another, they are able to move people through quickly and keep patients out of the waiting area.
Also, to ensure both anonymity and to have accurate data transferred to each station, each participant is given an armband with an ID number. At each station, this band is scanned and information is collected and associated with that number.
Overall, NHANES staff expects about 470 patients between now and the end of their stay in Roswell on Oct. 7. And so far, the entire staff is enjoying their new temporary home.
“Everyone is loving it here,” Eklund said. “Roswell is very welcoming.”