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Health survey comes to Umatilla County

The Hermiston Herald - 10/5/2017

The four long, white trailers on the former Umatilla County Fairgrounds might look out of place amid the rubble, but nurses and doctors are hard at work inside. A team from the National Health and Nutrition Survey is in Umatilla County for the next month, conducting interviews and examinations on selected participants from around the county.

The survey team travels to 15 different counties around the United States each year and collects health data. The data are then used to create statistics that the Centers for Disease Control publish about the health of people in the U.S.

In each county the survey team visits, they identify about 450 people to be surveyed. Of those, they hope about 350 will participate.

“With the 15 counties, we’re trying to match the U.S. population,” said study manager Janis Eklund. That means the people they select are picked based on age, race, gender and socioeconomic status — with the hopes that they can find a collection of participants that mirrors the population of the country. However, Eklund said, they select random home addresses and visit those homes, to see if the person living there fits a demographic they need.

Eklund said last week they had identified about 300 people, and they will started examinations Thursday. They will be in Umatilla County until Oct. 31.

The examinations this year include dental, dietary, hearing and body mass scans. They also draw blood, and test participants’ blood pressures using both an old and a new machine.

The data they collect is used to study a variety of health trends across the U.S., including anemia, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, obesity and sexually transmitted diseases.

All the information participants give is confidential, Eklund said.

Eklund said every few years, some of the tests will change based on medical research.

The staff that work for the survey spend much of the year on the road, conducting examinations in different counties.

Rita Washko, a doctor with the survey team, has been traveling with NHANES for about 12 years.

She said it’s been interesting seeing how different the various parts of the United States are, health-wise.

“The biggest difference I’ve seen is the difference in blood pressure control throughout the country,” she said. “There are some regions where it’s much higher.”

Washko would not say specifically where, but she said she has also noticed that in rural areas she tends to see older people that are more physically robust.

Washko said one of the challenges with the survey job is the lack of follow-up.

“Say you have an abnormal CBC (complete blood count). I speak to the person so they understand, and send them off, but I never find out what happens. That’s a big disconnect, and I had to get used to that.”

But she noted that the primary goal of those working for NHANES is to collect data.

“We’re collecting data that affects the entire population.”

Those who participate in the study are compensated $125, plus a transportation fee.


Contact Jayati Ramakrishnan at 541-564-4534 or jramakrishnan@hermistonherald.com.


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