Approximately 500 Bronxites will head to the parking lot of the James J. Peters VA Medical Center to receive thorough physical exams as part of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.
The survey is similar to the census, but instead of measuring numbers and demographics, it measures Americans’ health. Participants will have everything from body proportion, stress levels, drug and alcohol consumption, to their teeth, urine, blood and much more tested and examined so the federal government can compile statistics on Americans’ health.
As the biggest health project in the world and the survey began in the Bronx on Tuesday, April 26 with informal visits and interview sessions at approximately 600 randomly selected households.
On Tuesday, May 17 the participants drawn from that initial pool began visiting four trailers outside the VA Hospital on 130 W. Kingsbridge Road to get about $4,500 worth of testing per person.
The survey visits 15 counties per year, but has not been to the Bronx for over a decade. The borough was picked this time around because of its diverse demographics.
“You find a wider range of ages and ethnicities than you would in a big city than say a small town in Missouri,” said survey study manager Jacque De Matteis. “Here, we can find someone in almost every group.”
The challenge of getting people from places like the Bronx to participate is that they are often a lot busier than residents of sleepy hamlets.
“In a big city participation among selected individuals is a little lower,” De Matteis said. “In a small city it’s about 80-85 percent. In a big city people are busy, they’re commuting, and most don’t get home until 8 or 9 p.m.”
The tests take about four hours per person. Anyone getting the physical exam receives remuneration of up to $125, plus a travel stipend.
People also get testing that their insurance would be unlikely to pay for. For example, participants meet with a dietician and go over everything they ate or drank within the past 24 hours. The dietary interview is then followed up with urinalysis to study the effects the previous day’s consumption.
The four trailers are called the Mobile Examination Center, or MEC. The MEC is run by both a permanent staff that travels with it from county to county. The staff oversees a team of volunteers that are mainly nurses and nursing students from local hospitals.
David Gaviria is overseeing the Bronx survey. This is his first time managing one. He previously managed HIV prevention programs in Washington, D.C. He believes the biggest challenge of running the project is keeping track of all the data that is being recorded.
“It’s a lot of information,” Gaviria said. “There are so many different components, but it really is an excellent project.”
Helen Yost is one of two doctors on the MEC. Her main responsibility is to oversee the safety of all examinations, but she has little direct contact with the participants.
On the rare occasion that a test reveals a serious health condition for one of the participants, Yost would inform them and help make plans for treatment.
“If there are things that people need to know immediately, we will contact them,” Yost said. “If there are things that are significantly out of range, I will make a referral.”
Most samples are sent to labs for testing, however, those results can take weeks. The survey will continue until Sunday, June 26.
©2011 Community News Group