NUTRITION and FITNESS

From AIDS to X-rays, survey's questions covered the gamut

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As federal health officials work on a redesign of the National Health Interview Survey, it's interesting to look back on the clever queries that built its reputation.

It started in 1957 with 75 questions. Perhaps the most famous one was: "Overall how would you rate your health - excellent, very good, good, fair or poor?"

The point was to ask people to talk about their health in their own terms. Later research showed that how a person answered that kind of question was a great predictor of their future health, said James Lepkowski, a survey research expert at the University of Michigan.

"It set a standard for other health surveys," he said.

The survey is currently going through an overhaul, meant in part to address its monstrous size - it contains 1,200 possible questions - but also to refine its measure of the nation's health.

Some examples of questions over the years:

-Can you see well enough to read ordinary newspaper print with glasses? (From the 1963 survey.)

-During the past three months did anyone in the family have a chest X-ray? (1970)

-Were you ever advised by a doctor, nurse, or other medical person to use less salt? (1974)

-During the last 12 months, did anyone in the house have frequent constipation? (1984)

-Have you ever had your blood tested for the AIDS virus infection? (1989)

-When riding in a car, does your child wear a seat belt all or most of the time, some of the time, once in a while, or never? (1991)

-During the past six months, was your child nervous or clingy in new situations? (2001)

-Do you have difficulty walking a third of a mile on level ground, that would be five football fields or five city blocks, when using your walking aids? (2014)

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