Reporter crafts story about connections between poverty, illness

About Joe Rojas-Burke

Joe Rojas-Burke is AHCJ’s core topic leader on the social determinants of health, working to help journalists broaden the frame of health coverage to include factors such as education, income, neighborhood and social network. Send questions or suggestions to joe@healthjournalism.org or @rojasburke.

Olga Khazan

It didn’t sit right with Olga Khazan, an associate editor at The Atlantic, seeing so many people focus on individual behavior as the root cause of public health problems such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease. She’d come across too many studies revealing how health is shaped by external factors such as educational opportunity, the physical environment and social quality of neighborhoods, and the corrosive effects of prolonged exposure to stressful living conditions.

In How Being Poor Makes You Sick, Khazan came up with an appealing lede to draw readers into a deeply reported story about the complicated, nuanced realities of the social determinants of health:

When poor teenagers arrive at their appointments with Alan Meyers, a pediatrician at Boston Medical Center, he performs a standard examination and prescribes whatever medication they need. But if the patient is struggling with transportation or weight issues, he asks an unorthodox question:

“Do you have a bicycle?”

Khazan found an efficient, compact way to frame the story to make it highly readable, while fitting in a tight exposition of the research linking social adversity to poor health via stress, lack of education, poor nutrition, environmental toxins, altered gene expression, and other pathways. I talked to Khazan about how she came up with her idea and executed the reporting. Read more …

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