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Dataset: National Health Interview Survey (NHIS)

Basic Information
Dataset Full Name National Health Interview Survey
Dataset Acronym NHIS

The NHIS is a cross-sectional household interview survey. It is the primary data source on the health of the civilian, non-institutionalized population of the United States. The survey, initiated in 1957, was designed "to produce statistics on disease, injury, impairment, disability, and related topics on a uniform basis for the Nation.” In general, the NHIS exists to monitor the health of the U.S. non-institutional population, and to display these characteristics by socio-economic and demographic characteristics. NHIS data are used within government agencies and the academic research community to monitor developments in the prevalence of illness, disability, and other health-related conditions. Survey content of the NHIS is updated about every 10-15 years. A redesign was instated in 1997. The most recent test redesign occurred in 2018. A full implementation of the redesign is scheduled for 2019.

The redesigned 2019 NHIS continues to identify people with functional limitations and difficulties and a battery of mental health questions have been added to the new rotating core to assess depression and anxiety. More about the 2018/19 questionnaire redesign can be found at: https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/nhis/2019_quest_redesign.htm .

While not covered in this entry, in 1994 a separate NHIS Disability (NHIS-D) survey was conducted. Additional information is available at:


Key Terms Health, Disability, Health Care Access, Health Care Utilization
Study Design Cross-Sectional
Data Type(s) Survey
Sponsoring Agency/Entity Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
Health Conditions/Disability Measures
Health Condition(s)

ADD/ADHD, Anxiety disorders, Arthritis, Blood disorder, Body mass index (BMI)/obesity, Cancer, Cardiovascular conditions, Chronic pain, Congenital conditions, Depression, Diabetes, Epilepsy or seizure disorder, Missing limbs/hand/finger/feet, Neurological conditions, Orthopedic conditions, Pulmonary disorders, Stroke

Disability Measures

Washington Group Questions on Disability (2018 onward), ACS 6 question disability series, Ambulatory disability, Cognitive disability, Communication impairment (child), Developmental disabilities, Functional limitations (ADLs & IADLs), Hearing disability, Independent living disability, Intellectual disability, Mental health disability, Physical disability, Self-care disability, Special equipment use/assistive technology, Visual disability, Work limitation

Measures/Outcomes of Interest
Topics Health status including: Obesity and other health conditions, Health behavior (includes alcohol, tobacco, and substance use), Health care access and utilization, Access to health insurance, Employment
Sample Population Civilian households & non-institutionalized group quarters
Sample Size/Notes 103,789 persons completed the survey across 41,493 households in 2015 (most recent data available). Representative sample of civilian non-institutionalized population, with oversampling of African American, Hispanic, and Asian Americans in the sample adult selection stage (more recent change since 2006)
Unit of Observation Individual
Continent(s) North America

United States

Geographic Coverage National
Geographic Specificity National-level estimates; some state-level estimates possible with pooling of data across several years (may not be very reliable)
Data Collection
Data Collection Mode In-person interviews administered to household representative (age equal to or greater than age of majority) by trained interviewers from U.S. Census Bureau. One random sample adult from household is interviewed to document adult health status and data are collected from one random household child from an adult household informant.
Years Collected

1957 - present

1997 redesign

2018 introduces a split sample test redesign

2019 - full implementation of redesign

Data Collection Frequency Annual
Strengths and Limitations
Strengths Contains a broad set of disability-related questions and a large set of other variables (very detailed health information). Annual national estimates with oversampling of minority populations including African Americans, Hispanics, and Asian Americans. Currently fielding ACS-based disability questions. Can be used to examine relationship between environmental factors, individual factors and health/health care outcomes. Linkages to SSA benefits history, MEPS, and Medicare enrollment and claims data help in examining various relationships between health and community-engagement for individuals with disabilities. See NCHS data linkage activities documentation. NDI mortality data and NIPRCS immunization records can also be merged to supplement or verify NHIS content.
Limitations Only national level statistics. Changes in sampling frame and recent 13% permanent reduction in sample size makes comparison across years problematic. Does not include population living in institutionalized group quarters. Sampling frame is refreshed every 10 years and certain minority groups may be underrepresented (e.g., American Indians).
Data Details
Primary Website http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/nhis/about_nhis.htm
Data Access

CDC All years (see Data Release links):


ADDEP at ICPSR (2013 data and earlier):


ADDEP includes additional value added information for researchers

Data Access Requirements Public Use Dataset
Summary Tables/Reports

NHIS Survey Reports:


Data Components NA
Selected Papers
Other Papers Harris, B., Hendershot, G., & Stapleton, D. (2005, October). A Guide to Disability Statistics from the National Health Interview Survey. http://digitalcommons.ilr.cornell.edu/edicollect/186/
Technical Multiple technical reports on sample design and variance estimation procedures
Related Repositories

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The Rehabilitation Research Cross-dataset Variable Catalog has been developed through the Center for Large Data Research & Data Sharing in Rehabilitation (CLDR). The Center for Large Data Research and Data Sharing in Rehabilitation involves a consortium of investigators from the University of Texas Medical Branch, Cornell University's Yang Tan Institute (YTI), and the University of Michigan. The CLDR is funded by NIH - National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, through the National Center for Medical Rehabilitation Research, the National Institute for Neurological Disorders and Stroke, and the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering. (P2CHD065702).

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Acknowledgements: This tool was developed through the efforts of William Erickson and Arun Karpur, and web designers Jason Criss and Jeff Trondsen at Cornell University. Many thanks to graduate students Kyoung Jo Oh and Yeong Joon Yoon who developed much of the content used in this tool.

For questions or comments please contact disabilitystatistics@cornell.edu