Webinar Summary Prepared by the Committee on Advocacy and Science Policy

*By Christine Taylor, PhD, Chair of ASN’s Committee on Advocacy and Science Policy

A recent **webinar sponsored by ASN’s Committee on Advocacy and Science Policy (CASP) served to underpin the ASN interest in supporting and strengthening the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). NHANES — which provides an essential foundation for policy, research, clinical decisions, program planning and more – faces emerging challenges that cannot be ignored by its numerous and diverse stakeholders. The webinar’s goal was to inform the ASN membership about NHANES and to explore the nature of the advocacy required to ensure that this survey moves into the future as a reliable source of critical data.

Dr. Paul Coates, ASN Past-President, opened the webinar and provided an overview of the wide application and vital nature of the NHANES. He emphasized its many applications in public health policy, in the development of federal regulations and programs such as school lunch, in establishing science-based standards and clinical practices, and in basic research. Dr. Coates noted the high regard in which the NHANES staff are held as well as their competence, diligence, and hard work. He also noted that the contractual process for the 2023-2033 survey precluded staff from offering an NHANES update for the webinar, but an NHANES staff member was able to participate in the brief panel discussion at the close of the session. Dr. Coates introduced the remainder of the program by pointing out that the goal was not to dig down into the detailed specifics of data collection, but to consider the larger overarching challenges that NHANES faces.

The program continued with two speakers who set the stage for further discussion. Dr. Christine Taylor, CASP Chair, began by pointing to issues stemming from stagnant funding and which affect current survey operations as well as the ability to innovate. She then outlined concerns related to decreasing survey response rates as well as the likelihood that the sample size is too small to provide the level of granular data needed to address the increasing interest in health disparities. Dr. Jaime Gahche, National Institutes of Health, described the nutrition-related components of the survey.

The final two speakers discussed the nature of the challenges in more detail, while offering thoughts about possible solutions. Mr. Charles Rothwell, former Director of the National Center for Health Statistics, offered a general stakeholder perspective and outlined options to potentially meet the critical needs for modernization, innovation and the study of new methodologies. Dr. Cathie Woteki, Iowa State University, reflected on the nutrition perspective. She highlighted an interest in updating the dietary component of the survey, which was put in place more than 30 years ago and therefore may need updating to be consistent with current interests and needs within the nutrition community.

The webinar discussions offered several take-away points. Most health surveys are under increasing pressure to modernize and adapt, and NHANES is no exception. While funds are always a central topic and are limited in any case, advocating for funding alone is not sufficient. A broader approach is needed to address the methodological challenges involved in conducting a survey such as NHANES. Questions were raised about: the constraints the survey must operate under; how it can continue to meet the needs of its stakeholders in the future; and how it begins to prepare for the future, including exploration of newer technologies and potentially different data collection goals and methodologies while preserving the ability to maintain key time trends. Second, the complicated nature of these considerations coupled with the value gained when there is input from varied experts led to the suggestion that ASN support efforts to request that the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM) convene an expert committee to review the NHANES and make recommendations about ways to meet its future challenges. It was acknowledged that this task requires that ASN work to build alliances around a NASEM study. Third, it was suggested that CASP continue to explore the questions about NHANES and expand the webinar discussions by organizing a workshop focused on the future of NHANES. A broad community of participants beyond nutritionists should be included. Finally, it was pointed out that NHANES is critical to many programs within the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Therefore, given the upcoming activities surrounding the authorization of the Farm Bill, ASN could include a focus on NHANES and a NASEM study in its recommendations to Congress concerning the components of the bill. The importance of ASN advocacy around these issues was pointed out.

CASP found the webinar informative and will consider how best to incorporate the options offered during the discussions.

**Recording and slides on the NUTRITION 2022 meeting platform:

  • To view the recording, individuals can click ‘View Recording’ button on the lower right.
  • To view slides, individuals can click on each individual presentation title at the bottom of the popup, and then click the ‘Handouts’ button for each individual presentation.