Questions for Jeannine Schiller M.P.H., Health Statistician and Lead Author of “Early Release of Selected Estimates Based on Data From the January-September 2017 National Health Interview Survey”
Q: What is new in this quarterly update that looks at 15 key health indicators for Americans?
JS: There is always something new in our quarterly estimates of 15 key health indicators for Americans. While results in this release were similar to those from last quarter, consistency of results is also an important finding. These new estimates, when analyzed with those from previous years, allow us to see where we are moving in public health measures and critical public health concerns today. This update provides the latest estimates (through January–September 2017) for this collection of key health indicators. The estimates for the first nine months of 2017 are provided by sex, age group, and race/ethnicity. Estimates represent the noninstitutionalized civilian population of the United States and allow monitoring of these indicators from 1997 to the most recent data available.
Q: What are the goals and benefits of producing a new update on all of these health behaviors every three months?
JS: The goals and benefits of producing these quarterly updates is to provide the most recent data available for timely monitoring of 15 key health indicators important to Americans’ health. Researchers and policy makers can then use this information to make critical decisions and take action sooner rather than later—to improve or maintain the health of our nation. The Early Release Program of the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) provides analytic reports and preliminary microdata files on an expedited schedule. Estimates are available just six months after the end of data collection. The public can have access to these timely reports and Early Release files without having to wait for the final, annual NHIS microdata files to be released in late June following the end of each data collection year. These early reports and data files are produced prior to final processing in order to provide early access to the most recent information from NHIS.
Q: Was there a result in your latest release of estimates that you hadn’t expected and that really surprised you?
JS: Most of the results for these indicators tend to be fairly consistent over time, so there was nothing unexpected in this latest analysis of 15 key health indicators. Of note, we did see continued increases in pneumococcal and influenza vaccination, obesity, physical activity (based on leisure-time activity), HIV testing, and diabetes—and decreases in current cigarette smoking. When examined over the course of the past couple of decades, some of these results are quite striking.
Q: What differences or similarities did you see among race and ethnic groups and various demographics in this analysis?
JS: We observed a number of variations among race and ethnic groups—and among women—in this quarter’s analysis of 15 health behaviors. Rates of pneumococcal vaccination, physical activity (based on leisure-time activity), and having at least 1 heavy drinking day in the past year, were all higher among non-Hispanic white persons compared to non-Hispanic black persons and Hispanic persons. Current cigarette smoking was lower among Hispanic persons compared to non-Hispanic black persons and non-Hispanic white persons. Among women, the prevalence of obesity was higher among non-Hispanic black persons compared to non-Hispanic white persons and Hispanic persons, while there was no significant difference in the prevalence of obesity by race and ethnicity groups among men.
Q: What is the take-home message from this report?
JS: In some ways, this is a good news report, though it is also important to keep an eye on some negative trends. I think its take-home message is that there is overall good health of Americans now and in recent years, despite some health behaviors that could affect overall wellness of our population. About two-thirds of persons had excellent or very good health during the first nine months of 2017, and this rate has been stable in recent years. While some health outcomes are going in the preferred direction (smoking, selected vaccinations, physical activity during leisure time, HIV testing), others, such as obesity and diabetes, continue to move in an undesirable direction.