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CDC tests health of Queens

Eric Tolliver, chief medical technologist at the mobile center, opens a refrigerator full of blood samples. Photo by Joe Anuta
TimesLedger Newspapers

Queens played a crucial role in giving the entire country its annual health checkup this month.

Part of the most thorough and comprehensive health survey in the country took place inside four large trailers parked at Queens Hospital Center, at 82-68 164th St., where residents had nearly every aspect of their bodies and diets recorded and put into a database that is used to track the rise and fall of diseases and the overall eating habits of Americans.

It is called the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, and it is funded by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“NHANES serves as the nation’s ‘health check-up,’” said Thomas Frieden, the centers’ director. “The survey is a unique resource for health information, and without it we would lack important knowledge about major health conditions.”

About 5,000 participants in the survey are selected to mirror the population of the entire country, including race and ethnicity — which is why Queens is a logical stop for the roving team of medical professionals who visit 15 counties every year.

“This is a gold mine for us,” said Jacque DeMatteis, a study manager. “If it’s on our green Earth, we can probably find it in Queens.”

Volunteers who were selected came to the parking lot of Queens Hospital Center to get blood work done and have their teeth and body fat examined. Through a touch-screen computer program, they anonymously disclosed their sexual habits, alcohol and tobacco use.

In one room, as Cristina Carrion-Tepus was recalling everything she ate over the last 24 hours, a table full of various-sized bowls and glasses were there to help her remember portion sizes.

Babies are measured with the precision of a micrometer, and some participants wore physical activity monitors for days to track how many calories their bodies burned.

All the information is complied as a set of raw data — a document that might seem overwhelming to anyone outside of the medical field — but one of the most important tools for health researchers, according to DeMatteis.

In the past, doctors were able to correlate elevated lead levels in blood samples to health problems, which caused the metal to be removed from paint, gasoline and soda cans, she said.

Other researchers used the data to analyze the diets of pregnant women who had babies with birth defects. The data showed a relationship between low levels of folic acid and the defects.

The data have been collected for 50 years, which enables convenient comparisons to be made to the health of Americans dating back to the 1970s.

Charts from the agency continue to show an alarming rise in diabetes, and a shift away from healthy foods for the country’s children. For example, from 1977 to 2001, the average intake of pizza for children aged 6 to 11 has increased by 425 percent, while that of vegetables has decreased 43 percent.

The research is publicly available and computer-based and also determines growth charts for children.

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at januta@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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