When the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention set up its mobile units at UNC Charlotte this summer to conduct its annual national health survey, it not only ensured that the health information of Mecklenburg County residents would be counted – it also provided evidence that the university’s reputation as a research institution is gaining ground at the national level.
The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey is considered one of the most important research tools among the nation’s leading scientists, and to make sure it’s conducted correctly, the CDC partners with leading academic research institutions in the locales where the data is collected.
“I think a lot of folks in Charlotte and in the region don’t understand how strong a research institution we are,” said Nancy Fey-Yensan, dean of the College of Health and Human Services. “We are North Carolina’s urban research university, and this is a testament to that.”
Fey-Yensan was part of the team tasked with coordinating the CDC’s efforts on university grounds.
Preparing the campus for the survey was a universitywide effort, she said, requiring entire parking lots to be taken off-line, and teams of plumbers and electricians to make sure the mobile units where the medical examinations took place were adequate and comfortable.
“It was like a mini-hospital that they brought on campus,” said Fey-Yensan. “We had to have running water. We had to have certain types of water. Most importantly, we had to have the right technology so that data could be held in the most confidential of ways.”
UNCC was a mobile examination site for Mecklenburg County, one of 15 counties across the country selected as a survey site this year. The survey moves to new locations every year to get representative population samples, and there are no immediate plans for the survey to return to UNCC, university officials said.
They goal of the survey is to learn about the American public’s health and nutritional status and then pass that information on to researchers in a variety of medical fields.
Participants are volunteers found through the Census and take part in both a detailed questionnaire and a physical exam.
What’s learned by the survey has helped shape public policy and introduced new initiatives. Without it, we might not have ever had nutritional data on food labels in our grocery stores, pumped lead-free gasoline or eaten grains fortified with folic acid for the better health of unborn children.
The survey’s roots began after World War II, when researchers noticed an imbalance between Americans’ overall economic prosperity and their overall health.
“We were a very developed country but it was really noted, especially in the Armed Forces, that the young men who were coming to fight weren’t that physically fit,” said Fey-Yensan. “So that sort of drove a lot of health science development from that point forward.”
This summer, three large mobile units rolled onto campus, staffed with the directors, nurses and phlebotomists who performed physical examinations on the volunteer participants.
In all, researchers conducted 300 in-home surveys and another 300 medical examinations on campus. Questions ranged from dietary habits to sexual activities.
Volunteers represented a cross-section of the population, including genders, race, ethnicities, age and socioeconomic status.
“It’s really quite a comprehensive database and really the most solid one for researchers to use,” said Fey-Yensan, who addedthe university’s own researchers were delighted the CDC chose UNC Charlotte as a partner.
National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey “typically looks for strong research academic partners to help them execute the NHANES surveys within the municipalities that they research,” said Fey-Yensan. “It’s who we are. We really are a research university, and we are really proud of that.”
Lisa Thornton is a freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org
For information about the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, go to www.cdc.gov/nchs/nhanes