Those people knocking on Dallas County doors with a badge and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ID aren’t late trick-or-treaters vying for extra candy. They’re health examiners from the CDC gathering data for a national health survey known for developing understanding of national health conditions.
The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey has shaped legislation locally and nationally. In the '70s, data from the survey found high lead levels in the blood of Americans, which led Congress to ban lead from gas and paint. Its track record also includes prevention policies for human papillomavirus, which has been linked to cancer and is monitored in teenage girls through the survey.
Now, NHANES is being conducted in Dallas, where statistics from the community will represent the rest of the country.
“These screening and health tests will help develop national health programs for years,” says Sherwin Bates, the NHANES senior study manager. “Everyone in the United States has benefited from the survey.”
Fifteen counties throughout the United States are randomly selected every year for the survey, and this year Dallas County is one of them. The CDC is gathering data from two other cities through December.
The surveys have been administered since 1959, including in Dallas a few times, with the last time being in 2011.
Anyone who agrees to participate is offered a $125 incentive depending on their age, and the CDC pays for transportation to and from the facility where the examinations happen.
So what do Dallas residents have to do to participate in the survey helping develop our understanding of national health but, most important, to get that cold, hard cash?
Health examiners go to randomly selected houses in Dallas County that are picked through a computer algorithm. They then ask the resident of that home a couple of basic demographic questions to determine eligibility. If members of the household meet requirements, they are asked to participate in the survey through two parts: an in-person interview and medical tests at a mobile examination center.
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“They’ll get an abbreviated report of the findings as soon as they finish, which, to me, is even better than the cash incentive,” Bates says.
The tests, screenings and examinations are worth upward of $3,500 and will be conducted by physicians, phlebotomists, dentists, dietary interviewers and lab technicians. After 8 to 12 weeks, participants will receive a full health report that they can share with their physician.
Of course, everything is voluntary, so residents can opt out. There’s also the problem of people being so used to solicitors that their first instinct is to bat away anyone who comes knocking on their door. Bates says the survey — like every survey — works best when more of the randomly selected people choose to participate.
“This study is a national jewel,” Bates says, “and the people chosen have a unique opportunity to contribute to society in a way many people won’t be able to.”