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close this book Food Composition Data: A User's Perspective (1987)
close this folder Other considerations
close this folder Dietary assessment methods used by the national health and nutrition examination surveys (NHANES)
View the document (introductory text)
View the document Introduction
View the document Design of NHANES II
View the document Major nutrition-related components of NHANES II
View the document Uses of dietary data
View the document Plans for future NHANES
View the document Conclusion



The National Center for Health Statistics has conducted health examination surveys for over 20 years. The National Health Survey Act of 1956 authorized the secretary of what is now the Department of Health and Human Services, acting through the National Center for Health Statistics, to collect statistics on a wide range of health issues. Among other topics, the centre is authorized to collect statistics on "determinants of health" and "the extent and nature of illness and disability of the population of the United States (or of any groupings of the people included in the population)..

As part of its response to this mandate, the centre fielded the first National Health Examination Survey in 1959. The target population for this survey was adults of 18 to 74 years of age. Two additional surveys were conducted during the 1960s, extending the age groups examined to include children of 6 to 11 years and adolescents of 12 to 17. In 1971, the range of topics included in the survey was extended to include nutritional status. Nutritional status was assessed through a fivefold approach including a medical history, a physician's examination, biochemical tests, body measurements, and a dietary interview. The first National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES I), conducted from 1971 to 1974, examined a representative sample of persons between the ages of 1 and 74. An additional sample of adults aged 25 to 74 years, called the NHANES I Augmentation, was examined in 1974-1975. The second National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES II) was conducted from 1976 to 1980. The age range extended to include infants of six months to one year. In December 1984, the centre completed data collection for the Hispanic Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) of persons of Mexican American, Puerto Rican, and Cuban ancestry residing in the continental United States. We are beginning to plan the next survey, NHANES III, scheduled to begin in 1988.

Over the years, data generated by the health examination surveys have served a variety of uses. The surveys have provided estimates of the prevalence of characteristics or conditions in the American population. Normative or descriptive data have been published on topics such as weight and stature. Both types of estimates permit the monitoring or measurement of changes in health and nutritional status over time through successive surveys. Problems of public health importance have been identified. The survey data have also been used to study the interrelationships of health and nutrition variables in the general population.

My purpose is to describe the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys, paying particular attention to the dietary intake data. Using NHANES II as a reference point, I will discuss design considerations, the major components of the survey related to nutrition, uses of the dietary data, and plans for future surveys.