May 16, 1990

Taking Nation's Pulse Through Surveys

JAMA. 1990;263(19):2600-2604. doi:10.1001/jama.1990.03440190056027

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IN the United States, the collection of vital statistics and reporting of communicable disease cases dates to the turn of this century. But continuing surveys of the nation's health status began only in 1956 with the National Health Survey Act.

With that legislation, the National Center for Health Statistics was born (later to be brought into the CDC "family"). The center is charged with "obtaining periodically needed information on the incidence, duration, and effects of illness and disability in the nation."

The center's headquarters are in Hyattsville, Md, near Washington, DC. It also operates a data-processing center in Research Triangle Park, NC. With a current budget of a little more than $84 million, the agency employs some 500 people.

"We don't sit on data for years and years. Nor do we censor anything we don't like," says Manning Feinleib, MD, DrPH, the center's director. To disseminate these data, the center