Sunday, June 14, 2015

Slow Saturday Special: NHANES State

"Mobile research lab enlists Boston-area residents" by Felice J. Freyer Globe Staff  June 13, 2015

A federal research project that since 1960 has informed much of what we know about sickness and health in America, the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (best known as NHANES, pronounced “en-haynes”) has come to Boston.

The participants will contribute to a data trove that has changed the way Americans live. Over the years, NHANES findings led to the decision to fortify foods with iron and folate, to remove lead from gasoline, and to vaccinate children against hepatitis B. The survey was the first to detect a connection between cholesterol and heart disease, and has chronicled the rise in obesity and diabetes.

And now they are telling us cholesterol is fine so they can send bad food to the school lunch program. 

Look, there was a day -- and it wasn't all that long ago -- that I believed in the beneficent intentions of this government in the health field, but that day has long passed. 

Btw, if the U.S. government was really worried about your health....

Today, the study, conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics, is asking new questions about salt in food and hearing loss. And it is constantly releasing new data, just last month reporting on trends in tooth decay.

The NHANES trailers pull up in 15 counties every year, parking in cow pastures or vacant lots or wherever local authorities recommend. The counties are selected to provide an annual sampling of 5,000 people who, together, mirror the age, race, gender, ethnicity, and income of the American population.

Starting about two weeks ago, members of an NHANES field team knocked on about 1,000 doors in Suffolk County. They were looking for occupants who meet specific criteria, such as age or race. Once they found a match, they asked prospects to complete an in-home questionnaire about medical history, lifestyle, and health. Those who agreed were also asked to come in for testing in the trailers behind the Doubletree.

Participants — called “SPs” for “sample person” — are assigned a number, and their data are kept confidential. They get a stipend of up to $125 and a complete report of their test results, valued at more than $4,000.

The testing in Boston starts next week, but Friday was the day to calibrate the equipment by running the tests on a few invited people whose data won’t be used. It was also an opportunity to show outsiders how it’s done, because once the real testing starts, confidentiality rules will keep the doors shut.

About six people came in. They replaced their clothes with blue paper pantsuits, and sat for measurements of their limbs and pricking of their veins. They lay supine for full-body X-rays to gauge body fat, opened wide for dental exams, and swallowed sugary water to check for diabetes. In a room stacked with measuring cups and spoons for reference, they tried to remember what they ate the day before and exactly how much. Left alone, they privately typed their answers to touchy questions about sex, mental health, and drug use.

One of the dry-run participants on Friday was Fanny Chan, 56, of the South End. She was invited because she’s one of three temporary, local employees. Chan will translate for Chinese participants; NHANES is seeking to reach a higher proportion of Asians.

The NHANES testing is intended for research purposes, but on rare occasions, it identifies a serious illness. Every now and then, a patient with dangerously high blood pressure is sent to the emergency room. Dr. Rita Washko once had a patient whose blood test revealed an advanced blood cancer. In two cases in her 10 years, a person’s answers to questions revealed an intention to commit suicide, and they were escorted to a hospital.

Washko, whose previous job was in student health services at Arizona State University, drives to seven or eight sites each year, with two-week vacations determined by the program’s schedules. During her vacations, she travels more, but for pleasure....

Time for me to get going.


Should have skipped that appointment because I'm getting no pleasure out of it anymore.