Assessment of Major Federal Data Sets for Analyses of Hispanic and Asian or Pacific Islander Subgroups and Native Americans: Inventory of Selected Existing Federal Databases. National Health Interview Survey (NHIS)


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Bureau of the Census
Department of Commerce


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The National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) is an important source of national information on American health indicators, health care access and use, and health-related behaviors. Initiated in 1957, NHIS is a continuous survey of about 41,500 households per year, with data collected throughout the year from weekly subsamples. The survey covers the civilian non-institutionalized population of the United States through personal interviews with household members.

The questionnaire consists of two basic parts: a set of family, adult, and child core questions on health and demographic items, and one or more sets of questions on current health topics. The core items provide continuous information on basic health variables, such as limitations of activity, injuries, health insurance, access to health care, health care utilization, conditions, and behaviors such as tobacco use, physical activity, alcohol use and immunizations. Extensive demographic information for household members, including race/ethnicity, also are collected. Questions on special topical modules change from year to year, but examples of past interest include prevention, dental care, physician services, health insurance, cancer risk factors, child adoption, and functional limitations.


The race/ethnic questions, used in the Calendar 1998 NHIS were as follows:


  • (Show Flashcard) do any of these groups represent (your) national origin or ancestry?
    (Where did {your} ancestors come from?)


    • Puerto Rican Mexican/Mexicano Hispanic
      Cuban Mexican-American Other Latin American (specify)
      Cuban American Chicano Other Spanish or Hispanic (specify)


    (Show Flashcard) What race {do} consider {yourself} to be?


      White Vietnamese
      Black/African American Japanese
      Indian (American) Asian Indian
      Eskimo Samoan
      Aleut Guamanian
      Chinese Other Asian, Pacific Islander (specify)
      Filipino Other (specify)



    (If multiple entries in Race) which one of these groups, that is (Read Groups) would you say BEST represents {your} race?

Interviewing policy

The NHIS policy regarding the use of bilingual interviewers parallels that of the Bureau of the Census, given that the survey is conducted for NCHS by the Bureau. Bilingual interviewers are recruited routinely for those areas known to be predominantly non-English speaking, with Spanish as the most important second language. Where feasible, other members of the household who are bilingual are asked to assist. Other language skills are provided, as the situation requires.

Sample size

The NHIS oversamples blacks and Hispanics, and the sample sizes shown in Appendix Tables A-1 to A-3 reflect the oversampling. Numbers shown are for all ages.

Publications of data for Hispanics, Asians, Pacific Islanders, and Native Americans

Reports prepared from the NHIS present limited data for the major race/ethnic groups; the relatively small samples for the subgroups, however, preclude the presentation of data for these individual groups. On occasion, NCHS has prepared special reports for a major race/ethnic group (e.g., Health Status of Asian Americans: United States, 1992-1994) by using multi-year average data.

Public use micro-record files are provided annually from the survey; the full race/Hispanic origin detail is among the items included on the individual record.

Revised race/ethnic definitions

All of the subgroups of interest were identified in the race/ethnic questions included in the 1998 NHIS. The Calendar 1999 NHIS race/ethnicity questions have been modified to reflect the changes introduced in the revised OMB standards for collecting race/ethnic data.

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