GULFPORT, MS - The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has about four more weeks left to gather health information right here on the coast that will have national implications. It's the most comprehensive survey of the health and nutritional status of the US population and part of it is happening in South Mississippi.
Harrison County is one of 15 in the country selected for the CDC's 2016 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. And they're counting on those they have reached out to in order to collect potentially lifesaving information.
Three CDC trailers have been stationed in the back parking lot of Garden Park Medical Center in Gulfport since mid-October. Inside the mobile units is a maze of medical technology. Thirty-two trained professionals, including a doctor and a dentist, are on the coast from the CDC, hoping to make Americans healthier in the future.
Jenni Echols is the CDC's Study Manager in Harrison County.
"We are interviewing a statistical sample of the population, which means researchers can get information that will benefit the health of the country in the future."
The National Health Survey has been going on for 55 years. Echols says everyone, from babies to the elderly, has benefited from the information that's gathered around the country.
"Researchers will analyze the information based on what we collect," Echols said.
Five-thousand Americans are asked to take part every year. In Harrison County, 500 people were randomly selected and contacted by mail to take part in the survey. It starts with a home interview and also includes a visit to the trailers for medical tests ranging from body fat measurements to tests for hearing.
They are also updating growth charts for babies and conducting nutrition evaluations that are measuring individual consumption this year.
"We keep consistency in what type of questions are asked. For example, what kind of cereal did you have and how much cereal did you have? What did you add to the cereal and how much?"
Officials say it has a far-reaching impact on everything health related, from the quality of the air we breathe, to obesity and heart disease issues, and the vaccines we get, and the food we eat.
Echols hopes the remainder of those who have been contacted will agree to take part in the survey over the next few weeks and wants people to know the findings are strictly confidential.
"People invited are encouraged to participate because each person represents 70,000 others just like them and we need to get a good cross-section of the population."
The findings have led to significant changes over the years, including getting rid of lead in gas and paint, and adding folate to bread to reduce birth defects.
Invited participants are paid $125, plus traveling expenses. The survey continues through December 19th.