CONCORD -- According to studies by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 6 percent of the nation's 12- to-19-year-olds reported taking either anti-depressants or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder drugs in the past month, but only about half of them have seen a mental health professional in the past year.

The studies also found that females in that age range are more likely to use anti-depressants than males, while male s are more likely to use attention deficit hyperactivity disorder medication.

Valuable information like that comes from data collected from 2005 to 2010 for the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, done each year by the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics. The national survey, similar to the U.S. Census, provides comprehensive health information that represents the entire nation's population by covering a range of ages, races and ethnicities. And it's here looking for volunteers in Contra Costa County until March 8.

"In terms of health data, there is no equivalent to this," said Dr. William Walker, director of Contra Costa Health Services, about the survey's importance to the medical community. "There is nothing as comprehensive and in-depth."


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The survey has collected information for the past 50 years to analyze and eke out ways to design public policy aimed at keeping people healthy.

Contra Costa County was scientifically-selected via random sampling as one of 15 counties nationwide for the CDC to survey this year. Its data will represent others counties nationwide with similar demographics to track health trends on a slew of health issues, such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease.

Each year, about 5,000 residents nationwide are invited to take part, said Janis Eklund, the study manager for CDC's National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey in Contra Costa County. In fact, each person selected can represent up to 65,000 people of similar age, race, ethnicity, gender or income level.

That's why participation is by invitation-only, Eklund said, and why it's so important for people to agree to help out.

These days however, it can be a challenge to convince volunteers to divulge their personal and medical information to strangers, since survey-takers still knock on doors, U.S. Census-style, to approach targeted volunteers, she said: "We still get doors slammed in our face sometimes."

But once selected volunteers learn more, "they feel lucky," she said. "But it's just getting in the door and showing them what we have to offer."

In exchange for helping with the national effort, volunteers -- whose names and medical information is kept confidential -- are asked to complete a health history interview in their homes and get a free comprehensive physical examination and nutritional assessment, for which they can be offered up to $125 for their time and travel expenses.

"It gives volunteers a great overview baseline of their health, and it doesn't cost them anything," Eklund said. "And if anything out of the ordinary is found, we'd let them know," so they can be seen by local doctors.

Complete health exams are performed in the CDC's mobile center, currently parked near the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Concord.

The state-of-the-art center, which consists of a set of four semitrailers brandishing the CDC's name, has even caught the eyes of some residents, who, Walker says, have called to ask: "What's going on? Why is the CDC here? Uh, oh."

But he's happy to reassure them that it's good news that the CDC has dropped anchor in the county.

"They actually are here to do prevention -- and not to deal with an outbreak," he tells them.

Contact Joyce Tsai at 925-847-2123. Follow her at Twitter.com/JoyceTsaiNews.

NATION'S Health Checkup
The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), being done in Contra Costa County:

Is a national survey done each year by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Health Statistics that gathers data on U.S. health and nutritional trends.
Runs through March 8.
Volunteers, preselected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, will be approached at home by survey-takers.
Survey takers will show official CDC I. D. s and other documentation and will briefly interview volunteers to determine eligibility.
Chosen participants receive free and confidential health and nutrition evaluations and will be invited to take part in a comprehensive medical exam in the CDC's mobile examination center in Concord.
Participants may receive up to $125 for time and travel expenses for taking the medical exam.
For more information, visit www.cdc.gov/NHANES.