About AHCJ: General News

New AHCJ resource offers guidance for covering social determinants and disparities in health Date: 12/05/13

Contact: Len Bruzzese, AHCJ, 573-884-5606

COLUMBIA, Mo. — The Association of Health Care Journalists has rolled out another Core Curriculum topic on its website. “Social determinants and disparities” is the sixth in a series of core topic subject areas making up the curriculum. It is one of at least a dozen key subject areas the organization believes today’s health journalists will need to master to cover the beat well.

“The World Health Organization defines social determinants as ‘the conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work and age’ and goes on to say they are shaped by resources, money and power from global to local levels,” points out Len Bruzzese, executive director of AHCJ and its Center for Excellence in Health Care Journalism. “Our communities are filled with these examples every day and astute reporters will illuminate and explore these conditions for their audiences.”

While AHCJ’s website already provides materials for journalists about inequalities in health status, the new pages will offer a more central and cataloged collection of materials on the topic, with the practical daily guidance of a lead editor who specializes in the topic.

Each specialty topic page includes glossaries, key concepts, reporting tip sheets, weekly blog items, first-person stories by fellow journalists, videos, data and more. The topic home page serves as a launch pad to more resources on the healthjournalism.org site and elsewhere.

Joe Rojas-Burke, a freelance journalist in Portland, Ore., is AHCJ’s topic leader on social determinants. He was a staff writer for 14 years at The Oregonian newspaper, where his beat coverage included science, medicine, and the business of health care. He was a Knight Science Journalism Fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology during the 2012-13 academic year. Before wandering into journalism, he studied biology at Columbia University and worked as a cell biology researcher at the Rockefeller University in New York City.

He works with Pia Christensen, AHCJ’s managing editor/online services, to find the latest material, edit contributions and make the site as easy to navigate as possible. The resources can be found at healthjournalism.org/socialdeterminants.

“There are so many things outside of what we think of as the health care system that affect public health – education, neighborhood, stress, economic situations and more,” Christensen said. “I’m looking forward to helping reporters tell the more sophisticated and complex story of how those factors play into longevity and wellness.”

The creation of the social determinants pages was made possible by support from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, based in Battle Creek, Mich., which has a profound interest in this area. The funders agreed reporters could use more help in reporting on social determinants and disparities in health. Although the organization provided funding, it did not seek to influence any of the materials on the pages, Bruzzese said.

AHCJ previously launched core topics on health reform, aging, oral health, medical studies and insurance. Some of the other topics AHCJ envisions adding to the core curriculum include mental health, children’s health, health IT and prescription drugs.

The Association of Health Care Journalists is an independent, nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing public understanding of health care issues. With nearly 1,500 members across the United States and around the globe, its mission is to improve the quality, accuracy and visibility of health care reporting, writing and editing. The association and its Center for Excellence in Health Care Journalism provide training, resources and a professional home for journalists. Offices are based at the Missouri School of Journalism.