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What Can We Learn From the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey?

Explore some key findings from this annual survey to better inform your career in public health.

The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHNES) is administered by the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) on an annual basis to assess and track the health and nutritional status of children and adults in the U.S. First conducted in 1971, it provides the public health community with a great deal of data and includes socioeconomic, demographic, and health-related questions; laboratory tests given by medical professionals; and medical, dental, and psychological evaluations. The findings not only inform national health standards in areas such as blood pressure and weight, but also identify the prevalence of various diseases and their associated risk factors. Below, we go over key survey findings in three areas among adults: obesity, hypertension, and fast-food consumption.


Obesity and Severe Obesity Rates, 2017–20181

  • The prevalence of adult obesity was 42.4%.
  • Severe obesity was found to be higher in women than men by more than 9%.
  • Obesity and severe obesity rates were highest among non-Hispanic Black adults.
  • Adults aged 40–59 had the highest rate of obesity.
  • The prevalence of obesity and severe obesity has been on the rise since 1999.

This information is of particular importance due to the serious health risks associated with being overweight and obese. These health effects include, but aren’t limited to, high blood pressure, diabetes, coronary heart disease, osteoarthritis, gallbladder disease, and stroke.2 Severe obesity increases the chance of serious health risks even more.

Prevalence of Hypertension and Controlled Hypertension, 2017–20183

  • Adults aged 60 and older had the highest rate of hypertension (74.5%), followed by adults aged 40–59 (54.5%). Adults aged 18–39 had the lowest rate of hypertension at 22.4%.
  • The prevalence of hypertension was found to be highest in non-Hispanic Black adults (57.1%). The rates for non-Hispanic white adults and Hispanic adults were 43.6% and 43.7%, respectively.
  • The rate of hypertension decreased from 47% in 1999–2000 to 41.7% in 2013–2014, but then rose to 45.4% in 2017–2018.

The overall prevalence of hypertension—which refers to a blood pressure of more than 130/80 mmHg—in adults was 45.4% and has shown to increase with age. The health risks associated with hypertension include stroke, cardiovascular disease, and heart failure, which makes it an important public health issue in the U.S.

Fast Food Consumption, 2013–20164

  • Over 36% of adults reported eating fast food on a given day.
  • The prevalence of fast-food consumption was highest in adults aged 20–39 (nearly 45%), followed by adults aged 40–59 (37.7%) and adults aged 60+ (24.1%).
  • Higher family income was linked to an increase in fast food consumption.
  • Men reported eating fast food at lunch more than women, but women reported eating fast food more as a snack.

Contributing factors of fast-food consumption include time, price, financial resources, and availability. Eating fast food is often associated with poor diet quality and excessive caloric intake.

Make an Impact as a Public Health Professional When You Earn Your Master of Public Health at Walden University

In Walden University’s Master of Public Health (MPH) degree program, you can explore a curriculum featuring case studies on the latest public health issues in a cutting-edge online environment. Whether you want to conduct research, design and implement health programs, develop public health policy, or administer public health services, Walden’s MPH degree program can give you the expertise you need to advance your career. Walden is an accredited university offering online degree programs, making it possible to earn your public health degree without completely rearranging your schedule or commuting to campus. Take classes at whatever time of day works best for you as you work toward your master’s and position yourself to make a difference in the public health arena.

Walden University is an accredited institution offering a suite of public health degree programs online, including a Master of Public Health (MPH) degree program. Expand your career options and earn your degree using a convenient, flexible learning platform that fits your busy life.


Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission,