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National CDC health survey making inaugural visit to Arkansas

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
The CDC's National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey mobile clinic unit is seen in this file photo.

Residents of White County in central Arkansas can take part in an annual nationwide public health survey being conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC’s National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) will have a mobile clinic stationed at Harding University until mid-February.

Study Manager Ruthie Christian says the goal is to interview and examine the health of 5,000 Americans from 15 cities across the country.

“And each one of those citizens represents thousands of others so that we can get a thumbprint of the nation’s health. But before we even get to a city, we send a team in… they list every single house, and we send those addresses to an algorithm to determine which houses will best represent the nation,” Christian said.

Originally begun in the early 1960s, the survey looks at numerous health indicators such as nutrition, environmental exposures and physical fitness. Findings from NHANES have led to breakthroughs in disease research, identifying risk factors both in specific communities (toxic arsenic levels in water, for example) and on a more sweeping scale; Christian credits the survey’s research on secondhand smoke with helping usher in stricter tobacco laws.

Christian says the goal is to identify 335 White County residents to take part in the survey. She says participants will undergo a physical examination, as well as a more in-depth interview about their personal health habits.

“That’s where we really get to the meat of where you stand health-wise. How do you shop, how do you eat, how do you exercise, what other habits do you have that affect your health either in a positive light or a negative light? So we go through an extensive interview process, and then we assign that person to the medical examination unit,” Christian said.

Christian says participants will undergo bloodwork and liver testing, among other non-invasive medical procedures, as part of the physical exam. Residents selected to participate in the survey will receive financial incentives as well as test results from their clinic visit.

This marks the first time the NHANES has surveyed Arkansas residents in its roughly 60-year history. Christian, an Arkansas native, says that came as a bit of a surprise to her.

“We need to be included in things like this. This is a national health study, and so we can represent our country just like any other of the other 49 states,” Christian said. “We’re special, and so we need to be included in these numbers.”

CDC personnel will hold an open house and tour of their mobile clinic beginning at 8:30 Friday morning at 128 Burks Drive in Searcy. The survey will run until Feb. 12 before moving on to another out-of-state community.

Daniel Breen is a Little Rock-based reporter, anchor and producer for KUAR.