Watching the Nation’s Health for 50 Years

The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), a long-time partner of the NLM, celebrated its 50th anniversary on September 29, 2009. Established in 1959 as the National Health Examination Survey, NHANES has been a primary source of data on the nation’s health including pioneering surveys that helped to identify the dangers of leaded gasoline, obesity, and low folic acid in birth defects, among others. NHANES is now part of the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), a division of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The NLM has partnered with the NHANES for 20 years, playing a key role by digitizing information gathered by the NHANES. For example, the NLM helped develop a digital atlas to interpret digital images and alphanumeric data gathered by NHANES on cervical and lumbar spine x-rays.

Based on NHANES surveys, scientists also were able to detect abnormally high levels of lead in blood, tracing them to leaded gasoline. This led to the nationwide ban on leaded gasoline and subsequent, dramatic drop in lead levels in blood. Parts of the NHANES collection are provided by the NLM Lister Hill National Center for Biomedical Communications (LHNCBC) as validated reference data for computer vision and image engineering research.