The press release that fell and hit its head

Brenda Goodman

About Brenda Goodman

Brenda Goodman (@GoodmanBrenda), an Atlanta-based freelancer, is AHCJ’s topic leader on medical studies, curating related material at healthjournalism.org. She welcomes questions and suggestions on medical study resources and tip sheets at brenda@healthjournalism.org.

Photo: BlatantNews.com via Flickr

Photo: BlatantNews.com via Flickr

Recently, an editor sent me a study to cover on concussions in teenagers.  At least, that’s what we thought the research was about, based on the title of its press release: “Teenagers who have had a concussion also have higher rates of suicide attempts.”

And I was excited to cover the study. Like gut bacteria and anything to do with chocolate or coffee or stem cells, concussion is a hot topic right now. That’s partly because brain scientists are just beginning to understand the lasting impacts of these sometimes subtle but probably cumulative injuries.

And they affect everybody from pro athletes to pee wee football players. So when parents and coaches see the word “concussion,” their thoughts rightfully turn to young athletes. About half of concussions in kids ages 8 to 19 are sports-related, according to a nationwide study of concussions published in 2010 in the journal Pediatrics.

The press release said the study found that kids who have had concussions were not only more likely to try to commit suicide, but to engage in other sorts of high-risk behaviors like taking drugs, stealing cars, setting fires and bullying.

The message here is that a kid who gets hit in the head too many times – presumably playing sports – might turn to drug abuse, self-injury and other sorts of criminal behaviors.  And that’s the way it was covered in the press. Continue reading

Exploring risk factors, rates of suicide in seniors

Eileen Beal

About Eileen Beal

Eileen Beal, M.A., has been covering health care and aging since the late 1990s. She's written several health-related books. including "Age Well!" with geriatrician Robert Palmer, and her work has appeared in Aging Today, Arthritis Today,WebMD and other publications. She leads AHCJ's Cleveland chapter.

Jules Rosen, M.D., a certified geriatric psychiatrist and chief medical officer at Mind Springs Health, the largest provider of psychiatric services in western Colorado, recently answered some important questions about senior suicide.

What are the most common risk factors for suicide in older adults?

The biggest one is major depression.

Major depression [in older adults] is difficult to recognize and diagnose, especially in the primary care setting where most diagnosis is going to be done. That’s because older people don’t come in with the classic symptoms [of major depression], related to things like schizophrenia or substance abuse disorder, which are fairly easy to recognize. They come in with somatic and functional complaints. They say: “I’m sick. I’m tired all the time. I’m not enjoying things I used to.”

So many times I hear people say “I feel this way because I’m old” and it’s not that they are old, it’s that they are depressed.

So, how do potentially suicidal seniors get the “right” diagnosis?

To get an appropriate diagnosis, patients need a medical work-up – to see how their thyroid is doing, how their electrolytes are, what their vitamin D level looks like, and so on – but they need a psychological work-up, too, to find out why they are “sick” or “tired” of “not enjoying things.” Continue reading

Interventions might alleviate poverty’s impact on child health

Joe Rojas-Burke

About Joe Rojas-Burke

Joe Rojas-Burke is AHCJ’s core topic leader on the social determinants of health. To help journalists broaden the frame of health coverage to include factors such as education, income, neighborhood and social network, Rojas-Burke will hunt for resources, highlight excellent work and moderate discussions with journalists and experts. Send questions or suggestions to joe@healthjournalism.org or tweet to @rojasburke.

children-beach

Image by Victor Bonomi via flickr.

We know that about 45 percent of American kids are growing up in families that are poor or near poor, and that this degree of social inequality helps explain why the health status of Americans is failing to keep up with progress in other wealthy nations.

But how to make things better is not so clear, I insisted in a recent post. I may have spoken too soon. There is now solid evidence from a long-running study in North Carolina that early childhood programs can produce health benefits that persist into adulthood. Continue reading

Dental tourism: Americans leaving the country for oral health care

Mary Otto

About Mary Otto

Mary Otto, a Washington, D.C.-based freelancer, is AHCJ's topic leader on oral health, curating related material at healthjournalism.org. She welcomes questions and suggestions on oral health resources at mary@healthjournalism.org.

Experts say many thousands of Americans are now going abroad for dental care. The growing phenomenon of dental tourism is believed to make up a sizable portion of the worldwide multibillion-dollar medical tourism market.

While exact numbers are impossible to find, and even estimates are scarce, the Deloitte Center for Health Solutions estimated that 1.6 million Americans would traveled abroad for all types of medical care in 2012 with dental treatments heading the list of procedures sought.

Find out why people are leaving the country for care, some of the concerns about receiving care in other countries as well as some sources for reporting in this new tip sheet.

Avoiding the ‘Trinity Trap’ when reporting on health promotion

Joe Rojas-Burke

About Joe Rojas-Burke

Joe Rojas-Burke is AHCJ’s core topic leader on the social determinants of health. To help journalists broaden the frame of health coverage to include factors such as education, income, neighborhood and social network, Rojas-Burke will hunt for resources, highlight excellent work and moderate discussions with journalists and experts. Send questions or suggestions to joe@healthjournalism.org or tweet to @rojasburke.

Health care is but one element of what makes the biggest difference in health outcomes – social factors play a far more significant role. Income and its distribution, education, employment, social supports, housing, nutrition, and the wider environment  what we have come to know as the social determinants of health – are the most powerful predictors of wellness and longevity. This has been understood for centuries, and empirically validated in recent decades with study after study demonstrating significant inequalities in health outcomes between wealthy and disadvantaged populations.

Why is it that, when we talk about health promotion, we still get stuck talking about the “Trinity Trap” of smoking, diet and exercise when we know that social factors have the biggest influence on health outcomes?

In this new tip sheet, family doctor and medical professor Ryan Meili discusses the importance of fully understanding the social determinants of health.

How to be smart about socioeconomic status in studies

Joe Rojas-Burke

About Joe Rojas-Burke

Joe Rojas-Burke is AHCJ’s core topic leader on the social determinants of health. To help journalists broaden the frame of health coverage to include factors such as education, income, neighborhood and social network, Rojas-Burke will hunt for resources, highlight excellent work and moderate discussions with journalists and experts. Send questions or suggestions to joe@healthjournalism.org or tweet to @rojasburke.

Image by Jay Reimer via flickr.

Image by Jay Reimer via flickr.

Medical study authors routinely claim to have “controlled” for socioeconomic status.

That kind of sweeping assertion should set off alarm bells. The authors probably haven’t come close to fully accounting for something as difficult to measure as a person’s place in the hierarchy of self-determination and power, neighborhood quality, working conditions, job security, income and wealth.

To assume otherwise is a mistake that can lead to misleading conclusions.

Consider, for example, a recent study in the journal Nature Medicine describing a genetic variation that might account for lower heart disease survival among African Americans. News coverage of the study caught my attention because whatever role genetics plays in the black/white disparity in heart disease, it’s probably small.

Some researchers have concluded that socioeconomic disadvantage is the most significant root of the problem, not genetic differences. And there is pretty good evidence that the traditional risk factors (diabetes, high blood pressure, lack of physical activity, obesity, smoking) account for all of the difference in heart disease mortality between black and white men in the United States, and most of the difference between black and white women. Continue reading

What early numbers tell us about kids’ dental coverage under ACA

Mary Otto

About Mary Otto

Mary Otto, a Washington, D.C.-based freelancer, is AHCJ's topic leader on oral health, curating related material at healthjournalism.org. She welcomes questions and suggestions on oral health resources at mary@healthjournalism.org.

child-dentist

Image by Herald Post via flickr.

Children’s dental benefits are listed among the 10 essential health benefits under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA). Yet there is no federal requirement that people buy dental coverage for themselves or their children when obtaining health insurance on state marketplaces.

That lack of a mandate is having an impact, a new study from the American Dental Association concludes.

An average of just 15.9 percent of children obtained stand-alone dental coverage along with their medical plans across the 37 states included in the study. By the same measure, more adults – an average of 20 percent – obtained dental benefits along with their medical plans, according to the ADA’s analysis of data gleaned from the February 2014 marketplace enrollment report submitted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Continue reading

Is technology leaving older adults behind?

Liz Seegert

About Liz Seegert

Liz Seegert (@lseegert), is AHCJ’s topic editor on aging. Her work has appeared in Kaiser Health News, The Atlantic.com, New America Media, AARP.com, Practical Diabetology, Home Care Technology report and on HealthStyles Radio (WBAI-FM, NYC). She is a senior fellow at the Center for Health, Media & Policy at Hunter College, NYC, and a co-produces HealthStyles for WBAI-FM/Pacifica Radio.

Joseph Coughlin, director of the MIT AgeLab, is fascinated by the intersection of technology and aging. As a keynote speaker at this year’s American Society on Aging conference, he challenged the audience to think about how evolving technology can not only improve health outcomes but can improve aging as a whole.

“The disruptive demographics of a new aging society is presenting a new generation gap,” he said. “This is a generation of new expectations when it comes to living longer.”

Technology is a cornerstone of how this generation views aging. However, don’t get taken in by “gee-whiz” gadgets that don’t enhance quality of life. “There’s a big difference between invention and true innovation.” Continue reading

Looking at questions that remain behind the enrollment numbers

Joanne Kenen

About Joanne Kenen

Joanne Kenen, (@JoanneKenen) the health editor at Politico, is AHCJ’s topic leader on health reform and curates related material at healthjournalism.org. She welcomes questions and suggestions on health reform resources and tip sheets at joanne@healthjournalism.org.

Photo by Thomas Hawk via Flickr.com.

Photo by Thomas Hawk via Flickr.com.

We put up a tip sheet the other day on how to interpret sign-up vs enrollment numbers. This piece by Carol Ostrom of The Seattle Times asks a lot of good questions as she looked at enrollment in her state.

Washington does a better job than many states in separating who paid versus who signed up, but there are other essential questions about enrollment. Who gained coverage? Who switched coverage? How many people’s plans were cancelled? Did they end up in the exchange or in another private plan? How do they feel about it a few months into the new system?

And how do we measure the success of the law?  Especially given its cost. Continue reading

Welcome AHCJ’s newest members

Len Bruzzese

About Len Bruzzese

Len Bruzzese is the executive director of AHCJ and its Center for Excellence in Health Care Journalism. He also is an associate professor at the Missouri School of Journalism and serves on the executive committee of the Council of National Journalism Organizations.

Please welcome these new professional and student members to AHCJ. All new members are welcome to stop by this post’s comment section to introduce themselves.

  • Matt Parker, student, Boston University School of Medicine, Boulder, Colo.
  • Laura Broadwell, independent journalist, Brooklyn, N.Y. (@Laura_Broadwell)
  • Heather Cygan, vice president of news/managing editor, Gannett Healthcare Group, Schaumburg, Ill. (@hcygan)
  • Jennifer Garcia, independent journalist, Houston
  • Matthew Glasser, health & medical producer, KNBC, Universal City, Calif (@mediamatthew)
  • Eleanor Kennedy, reporter, Nashville Business Journal, Nashville (@NSHBizKennedy)
  • Tami Luhby, senior writer, CNN Money, New York
  • Susan Moran, independent journalist, Boulder, Colo.
  • Tom Murphy, reporter, The Associated Press, Indianapolis
  • Margery Rosen, independent journalist, New York

If you haven’t joined yet, see what member benefits you’re missing out on: Access to more than 50 journals and databases, tip sheets and articles from your colleagues on how they’ve reported stories, conferences, workshops, online training, reporting guides and more. Join AHCJ today to get a wealth of support and tools to help you.