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Hernando residents tapped to participate in national health, nutrition survey

BROOKSVILLE — Have you ever chuckled over the nutrition label on the potato chip bag? X number of calories, X grams of fat per serving, 3 servings per bag? You've just settled in to eat the entire bag.

Ever wondered why your hip measurement inched up without a weight gain?

Ever swear the dryer shrank your pants because a 32-inch inseam only reaches now to your ankle bone?

The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, ongoing in Hernando County through March 8, will result in some answers to such questions and, likely, in revised national standards and recommendations regarding diet and physical and mental health.

In the survey's 55th year nationwide, this appears to be the first time Hernando County residents have been sampled, officials said.

Some 500 local residents selected randomly by computer are undergoing three-hour interviews and medical exams, with the information gathered to be pooled with that from 14 other counties across the country. Each Hernando respondent will ultimately represent 65,000 persons across the country of the same age, gender, ethnicity and socioeconomic standing. The numbers and data, scientifically weighted and averaged, will draw a picture of the health status of the country's 323 million-plus people.

At the survey's midpoint locally, those undergoing the exams ranged from 4 days of age to 103 years.

Working from a mobile exam center outside Bayfront Health Brooksville, 16 medical professionals and eight field staffers under direction of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are conducting interviews, measuring body parts, drawing and analyzing blood, picturing the liver, testing hearing, assessing mental health and conducting overall medical exams.

Were a respondent to undergo these tests on the open market, they'd cost some $7,000 in total, said study manager Jenni Echols.

• • •

Entering the dietary sampling center, respondents greet a table set with every imaginable size plate, bowl, beverage glass and measured spoon. As an interviewee says, for instance, he ate cereal for breakfast, he's questioned: What size bowl? Did he add sweetener? What kind? How many spoonfuls? What size spoon?

Another reports she ate a baked potato for dinner. Out comes a picture book of food and the query: Which size potato?

That sandwich for lunch? What kind? Homemade. From a deli or fast-food outlet? Which one?

Echols said the answers ultimately reveal national eating patterns and lead to more reasonable package labeling, such as listing total calories and fat in that entire bag of potato chips.

Also, dietary data coupled with body measurements will tell a tale of whether obesity continues up an incline, which could lead to changes in federal dietary recommendations.

New to the exams this year is ultrasound picturing of the liver via a cutting-edge machine recently approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration. It supersedes literal cutting to examine liver size, shape and density.

"A lot of people are really interested in their liver," said epidemiologist Mark Eberhardt, who operates the $100,000 device, which will reveal hepatitis infection and fatty liver, both prominent among current health concerns nationwide.

Remember those "shrinking" pants? Health technician Olga Guerrero, in the survey's body measurement unit, noted that it is theorized that a fatty liver correlates with length of leg bones, other liver dysfunction perhaps indicated by hip circumference.

Determining liver issues, and correlating them with leg and hip measurements, may lead to new diagnostic tools for physicians, and possibly new sizing considerations for clothing manufacturers, Guerrero suggested.

From physical characteristics to the senses, this year's audiology testing focuses on the 6- to 19-year-old age group and those older than 70, aiming to learn which segment of the population may need closer hearing attention. Hearing impacts learning ability, hence the young target, and memory retention, a concern for elders, audiologist Rita Washko pointed out.

Mental health also is getting a close look in this year's survey. For a respondent indicating symptoms of depression, for example, how much physical activity does he or she pursue? If depressed, do blood tests reveal a clinical connection such as anemia, drug use or disease?

In a telephone interview from his office with the National Center for Health Statistics in Hyattsville, Md., senior medical officer Tony Nguyen said of health measurements among the overall populace: "We do the most mundane things, but how many do it, and are they putting themselves at risk?"

Correlating and crunching the numbers can lead to changes in health policies as well as everyday life. Echols said past surveys have led to the removal of lead from gasoline and paint and regulation of the B vitamin folate in bread because it impacts spina bifida.

• • •

For their role in completing the survey, respondents will receive a comprehensive report of their exams, a set of serving dishes marked with their serving sizes, an incentive stipend up to $125 per adult and a transportation allotment up to $45.

This year's findings will be combined with those of a similar survey next year in a two-year study cycle, with results to be made public in late 2018.

Contact Beth Gray at

Hernando residents tapped to participate in national health, nutrition survey 02/09/17 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 8, 2017 6:47pm]
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