Healthy Outlook: Lessons from my colleagues, and my plans for the Journal-World’s Health section
photo by: Mackenzie Clark
This column is about to enter its seventh month, which feels simultaneously like the blink of an eye and eons. I wanted to pause for a moment of reflection after a new experience this month, which has had a huge impact on my perspective and my goals.
I spent four days in Phoenix for the Association of Health Care Journalists’ 2018 conference, thanks to a fellowship from the Kansas Health Foundation. I heard from experts in topics ranging from medical studies to sleep disorders; from dental care to microbes in the lower intestine. I also heard from colleagues in journalism who are making big changes in their communities and even across the country.
I learned so much, and it really opened my eyes to myriad topics and issues that need my attention. Here are just a few bullet points from various sessions and panels I attended — some facts, some thoughts and some questions to consider:
• From 2000 to 2016, the number of retractions of scientific papers and studies has increased 20-fold. Oftentimes, the original articles aren’t marked clearly, so scientists may continue to cite articles that have been retracted, further perpetuating problems.
• The Food and Drug Administration approves most medical devices based on their similarity to precedents, unless they’re a brand new concept. This differs strongly from the process for drug approval, which is much more stringent.
• When will we make it socially acceptable to go to bed? Our society seems to glorify work addicts who thrive on four or five hours of sleep each night, living on caffeine and adrenaline, but that’s unhealthy in so many ways. Sleep is actually essential to proper functioning. (I’ll let an expert explain this better than I can, in an article in the near future.)
• Based on current health trends, in many locations in the United States, a child born today will have a shorter life expectancy than the mother. Health in this country is falling behind competitor countries’, and we’re moving backward overall.
• Sixty to 90 percent of schoolchildren, and nearly 100 percent of adults, have dental cavities.
• There are more than 1,000 species of microbes, many of which live in our digestive systems. What you eat does impact what’s in there, but it’s not yet clear exactly how.
• Fifty percent of all mental illness begins by age 14; 75 percent begins by age 24. On a related note, from 2007 to 2015, the suicide rate among teen girls in the U.S. doubled.
Many of these notes are topics I plan to dive into more deeply, learn more about and report for this Health section, and there are many others that aren’t listed.
My biggest takeaway from the whole conference, though, is that health journalism really does matter. This beat is important, and I want this community to know I’m going to do everything I can to report on these big, innumerable topics as thoroughly as possible.
I also want readers to know that I care about your concerns. If there’s something health-related going on in this community, good or bad, that I haven’t reported on, I want to hear about it. The best way to reach me is via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. My office line is 785-832-7198.
My job is to find answers to the questions this community wants to ask and to ask some questions that maybe haven’t come up yet. Don’t hesitate to reach out and let me know what’s on your mind.
I think my biggest takeaway from #ahcj18 is that this beat matters. What we do matters. Our communities depend on us, even more than they may realize. We have a very important job to do. I’m excited to get to work. ❤️ pic.twitter.com/6i8tyEJc0R
— Mackenzie Clark (@mclark_ljw) April 14, 2018