Health: Conditions & Practices

Health: Conditions & Practices

The NLSY97 collects information on the general health status of respondents in all rounds. Select rounds also provided data on respondents' health practices and knowledge. In rounds 6 and 11-15 a more extensive set of questions including chronic health conditions are included. In rounds 13-16, respondents who were 29 years of age answered a special series of health questions.

Health Status and Conditions

Youth Questionnaire

Height and Weight. All youths are asked to report their height and their weight and to state the level of their general health in every round.  In the self-administered section, youths further describe their weight (very underweight, slightly underweight, about the right weight, slightly overweight, very overweight) and their current weight strategy (lose weight, gain weight, stay the same weight, not doing anything about weight). 

Handedness.  In round 5, youths reported whether they were left-handed, right-handed, or used both hands equally well. Round 15 asked a series of questions determining the degree to which respondents were left-handed or right-handed, with respondents indicating which hand they used for various activities.

Puberty. Youths state whether they have entered puberty and their age at the time of onset.

Health Insurance Coverage. In round 1, if the respondent did not live with a parent/guardian at the time of the survey, he or she was questioned on the source of any health insurance coverage that included physician or hospital care. For respondents living with a parent or guardian in round 1, information about health insurance is collected in the Parent Questionnaire. Respondents were asked more details about health insurance coverage beginning in round 6. Respondents were asked in rounds 6 and up if they currently had health care coverage and if there was any time in the past year during which they did not have health care coverage.

Mental Health Measures. Rounds 4, 6, 8, 10-12 and 14 (and in round 13 in the Health Age 29 section) included a question series concerning how often the respondent felt certain ways during the month before the interview date. These questions are a five-item short version of the Mental Health Inventory (MHI-5), developed by Veit and Ware. Respondents reported the frequency of being nervous, feeling calm and peaceful, feeling downhearted and blue, being happy, and feeling so down in the dumps that nothing could cheer them up. Respondents used a four-point scale to rate the frequency of their feelings. These questions are a five-item short version of the Mental Health Inventory (MHI) developed in the late 1970s. This series is located in the self-administered section of the questionnaire in questions YSAQ-282B through YSAQ-282G. In round 13, respondents answered questions about the number of times they had been treated by a mental health professional and the number of times they had missed activities (such as work or school) because of an emotional, mental or psychiatric problem.

Health Conditions. Rounds 6, 11, 12, and 13 include an extensive series about physical, genetic, mental, and emotional conditions the respondents may have had.  Respondents were asked to report any such condition (blindness, hearing loss, diabetes, heart condition, asthma, epilepsy, cancer, eating disorder, etc.) in addition to the age at which it was first noticed and the extent to which the condition currently limits activities. 

Medical Treatment/Visits. Questions in rounds 6 and up asked about the number of times the youth was treated for injury or illness in the past year, the number of times the youth missed at least a day of usual activities due to injury or illness but was not treated, and how long it had been since the youth visited a doctor for a routine checkup (the latter question changed in round 8 from how long since the respondent had seen a doctor to whether or not the respondent had seen a seen a physician in the past year). In rounds 11-13, respondents were asked about any overnight hospitalizations.

Out-of-the-ordinary Stressors. In rounds 6, 11, 12, 13, and 16, respondents reported about being a victim of a violent crime or being homeless. They also answered a series of questions about whether any household members had had hospitalizations, incarcerations, or long-term unemployment, whether the respondent's parents had recently divorced, or if any close relatives had died.

Health-At-Age-29 Questions. In rounds 13-16, respondents who had turned 29 were asked a new series of questions to establish a baseline of health. These questions included questions about a family history of diseases (including detailed questions about diabetes), parents' mortality, respondents' health limitations (including limitations on moderate activities, climbing stairs, social activities, and productivity), energy level and mood. Other questions were asked about whether the respondent had had a flu shot, a cholesterol test, diabetes test, pap smear, and blood pressure check in the past two years.

Workplace-Related Injuries and Illnesses. Rounds 13-15 included questions about work-related injuries and illnesses the respondent may have received or contracted since the date of the last interview. Respondents reported which employer they were working for at the time, the year and month the injury took place or illness began, what activity they were engaged in (normal work activity, employer-directed travel or training, meal break, rest break, personal business or other) when it occurred, and the resultant number of days absent from work, if any. They were also asked if the incident caused a temporary job reassignment, a decrease in hours, loss of wages, any job limitations, the number of days it took to resume regular duties after the incident, and details about worker's compensation related to the incident.

Parent Questionnaire (round 1). 

The round 1 parent interview provided additional information about the youth's general health. The responding parent reported any past or present medical condition(s) that limited the youth's ability to attend school regularly, to do regular school work, or to work at a job for pay. The survey specifically asked whether the youth suffered from any of the following conditions:

  • Chronic health condition or life-threatening disease
  • Learning disability
  • Part of body missing or deformed
  • Physical, emotional, or mental condition
  • Trouble seeing, hearing, or speaking

For each health condition, the responding parent was asked how old the youth was when the condition was first noticed and whether the youth was currently limited by the condition. Data on the youth's health insurance coverage were also collected from the responding parent.

Additional information about the general health of the parent, his or her partner or spouse, and, in some cases, the youth's absent biological parents is described in Parent Characteristics.

Health Practices and Knowledge

The round 1 NLSY97 interview included a series of questions on respondents' health practices and knowledge. The health practices questions asked about the number of days in a typical school week that the youth ate breakfast, the number of days in a typical week the youth ate green vegetables or fruits, the number of days in a typical week that the youth engaged in exercise lasting 30 minutes or more, and the percent of the time that the youth wore a seatbelt. These round 1 health practices questions were asked only of respondents born in 1983.

Rounds 6 and 10-15 also asked NLSY97 respondents (all birth years) about health practices. These included questions about the number of days in a typical week the youth ate fruits and vegetables and the number of days in typical week the youth engaged in exercise lasting 30 minutes or more. Rounds 13-15 included more specific questions on the type of exercise. Respondents were also asked to rate their general health and to report the amount of sleep they got on a typical weeknight.  Other questions asked about the amount of time in a typical week the youth spent using a computer and the amount of time in a typical week the youth spent watching television.  In addition, respondents were asked to report how many times during the last 30 days they had driven a car or other vehicle after they had been drinking alcohol and how many times during the last 30 days they had ridden in a car or other vehicle after the driver had been drinking. Rounds 13-15 included additional questions about food consumption, asking about the respondents' awareness of the nutrients in the food they eat, frequency of eating fast food, frequency of snacking between meals, frequency of skipping meals, frequency of consuming a drink that contained sugar, and frequency of limiting calorie intake. Respondents in rounds 13-15 also were asked how often they brushed and flossed their teeth.

Further questions in rounds 1 and 6 assessed youths' knowledge of pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. In both rounds, these questions were asked only of respondents born in 1983. Two questions asked the youth to choose the most effective method of preventing pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases--withdrawal, condom, or birth control pill. The youth also stated at which point in the female menstrual cycle he or she believed pregnancy was most likely to occur. 

In addition, in rounds 1 and 6 these youths were asked to state their opinions on whether smoking cigarettes contributed to getting heart disease or getting AIDS. The youths were also surveyed on whether having five or more drinks of alcohol once or twice per week increased the risk of damaging the liver, getting heart disease, getting arthritis, becoming addicted to alcohol, or harming an unborn child.

Parent Questionnaire (round 1). If a youth was born in 1983, the responding parent was questioned on his or her perception of the effects of drinking alcohol on the same health conditions listed in the youth portion of the survey (see above). 

Comparison to Other NLS Surveys:  Respondents in each cohort have answered questions about their health; however, the specific questions have varied widely as the health sections were modified to reflect the respondents' varying life cycle stages. Health insurance information has been collected from respondents in all cohorts except the Young Men.  In 1984, NLSY79 respondents answered health knowledge questions about when pregnancy occurs; the NLSY79 children age 10 and over (10-14 in 1994 and 1996) have responded to this question each year since 1988. Users should refer to the appropriate cohort's User's Guide for more precise information.

Survey Instruments:  Most health questions in the Youth Questionnaire are found in the health and self-administered sections (question names begin with YHEA and YSAQ, respectively), with the exception of the work injury questions, which are found in the employment section (see questions that begin with YEMP-INJ). In the round 1 Parent Questionnaire, these questions are found in sections P6 and PC9.

Related User's Guide Sections Alcohol Use
Cigarette Use
Sexual Activity & Dating
Parent Characteristics
Main Area of Interest Health
Supplemental Areas of Interest Fertility and Pregnancy
Sexual Activity
Substance Use