Bergen County is among only 15 in US chosen for key CDC national health survey

Lindy Washburn


A cross-section of Bergen County residents has been selected to participate in a national health survey to collect data on everything from undiagnosed diabetes in the population to the age children start brushing their teeth. It tells researchers about Americans’ dietary, fitness and sexual habits and sets the national population averages for height, weight and blood pressure.

The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, conducted by a branch of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, chooses 15 counties nationwide each year to sample. A total of 5,000 people from those counties is then selected to participate in the survey. They represent the entire U.S. population.

“NHANES serves as the nation’s ‘health checkup’ by going into communities throughout the country to collect health information,” said Brian Moyer, director of the National Center for Health Statistics. “The survey provides a wealth of important data about many of the major health and nutritional issues affecting the country.” 

It also serves as a personal health checkup. While no medical care is provided in the mobile examination center, the participants receive a report about the physical findings of the examination and an explanation of the findings by the survey’s medical staff.

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Among the findings from recent annual surveys:

  • 3 out of 10 people in the United States have diabetes but have not been diagnosed by their doctors.
  • Four out of 10 adults ate fast food on a given day, in surveys from 2013 through 2016.
  • Four out of 10 adults were obese, in the 2017 and 2018 data.  

Over the last 60 years, 240,000 people nationwide have participated, the CDC said. Participants range from infants to the elderly. Locally, data is collected on air quality, vaccinations and the low-fat and “light” foods found in grocery stores.

The Bergen County interviews began Monday. The invitation-only survey includes two parts: a detailed interview, and a physical examination and tests, conducted in a mobile medical center by CDC staff. Blood samples will be tested for anemia, high cholesterol, diabetes, infectious diseases such as hepatitis B and C, and environmental concerns such as lead and mercury, as well as evidence of COVID-19 infection. Some participants will have liver scans and tests of balance.

"Test results are going to be an important piece of us understanding our nation's health as we recover from the COVID-19 pandemic," said Dr. Tony Nguyen, the chief medical officer for the survey.

Public health officials, legislators, and physicians use the information to develop policies and to design health programs and services, as well as measure their impact. It also helps produce the pediatric growth charts used by children's doctors.

Questions are asked about disease history as well as smoking, alcohol consumption, sexual practices, drug use, physical fitness and activity, and other factors critical to health.

The confidentiality of the results is protected by law.