social determinants of health

Health researchers in Indiana are knocking on doors to collect surveys and DNA samples. A growing number of studies factor in zip code when considering health outcomes.
Jill Sheridan/IPB News

When health researchers make headlines, it’s often for a sensational project – like manipulating genes to create a baby. But others are examining broader issues, including how – and where – you live affects your health.

On a melancholy Saturday this past February, Shalon Irving's "village" — the friends and family she had assembled to support her as a single mother — gathered at a funeral home in a prosperous black neighborhood in southwest Atlanta to say goodbye.

To understand why teen pregnancy rates are so high in Texas, meet Jessica Chester. When Chester was in high school in Garland, she decided to attend the University of Texas at Dallas. She wanted to become a doctor.

"I was top of the class," she says. "I had a GPA of 4.5, a full-tuition scholarship to UTD. I was not the stereotypical girl someone would look at and say, 'Oh, she's going to get pregnant and drop out of school.' "

A man sobbed in a New York emergency room. His elderly wife, who suffered from advanced dementia, had just had a breathing tube stuck down her throat. He knew she never would have wanted that. Now he had to decide whether to reverse the life-sustaining treatment that medics had begun.

American Indian and Alaska Native families are much more likely to have an infant die suddenly and unexpectedly, and that risk has remained higher than in other ethnic groups since public health efforts were launched to prevent sudden infant death syndrome in the 1990s. African-American babies also face a higher risk, a study finds.

Lauren Chapman/WFYI

Janaya Wilkins, 25, dropped out of high school when she was a teenager. She has tried and failed to get her GED twice since then.

Now, Wilkins, a mother of two is giving high school another shot in her hometown of Indianapolis.  

And she’s getting help sticking to her goals from a life coach, whose services are paid for by an unexpected source, her health insurance company.

Trump’s Vow To Squeeze ‘Sanctuary Cities’ Could Play Havoc With Health Programs

May 2, 2017
Pixabay

 

The Trump administration’s tough stance on immigration has some local health department officials worried it could spur cuts in federal funding and complicate a wide variety of programs, from efforts to battle the opioid epidemic to domestic violence initiatives.

Poor people who reside in expensive, well-educated cities such as San Francisco tend to live longer than low-income people in less affluent places, according to a study of more than a billion Social Security and tax records.

Side-By-Side Kansas Counties Are Worlds Apart When It Comes To Health

Mar 21, 2016

At her home studio in Westwood, Kansas, yoga instructor Marilyn Pace leads a class of 5-to-8-year olds. With the help of songs, games and other kid-friendly teaching methods, she guides her small students through poses like the cobra, the triangle and the downward-facing dog.

Tatjana Alvegard takes her daughter, Kaya, to Pace’s classes regularly.

Quest For Blood Pressure Cuff Highlights Inequality

Feb 17, 2016

The doctor told Sharlene Adams to get a blood pressure cuff, so Adams set out to buy one.

For Adams, who lives in West Baltimore, that meant four bus rides, a stop for a doctor’s signature, two visits to a downtown pharmacy for other medical supplies, a detour to borrow money for a copay, a delay when a bus broke down, and, at last, a purchase at a pharmacy on the east side of town.

The data on childhood lead poisoning in the U.S. is alarming. Nine counties report even higher levels than Flint, according to an article on Vox.com. Also alarming: more than half of states don't even report.

liquor bottles
GREYERBABY via Pixabay

When Kelli was growing up in the 1970s in suburban Johnson County, Kansas, southwest of Kansas City, it was a quiet, clean community boasting single-family homes and good schools. And with state laws prohibiting alcohol sales on Sundays, in grocery stores and by the glass, outsiders could have been forgiven if they found life there to be pretty straight-laced.

“You just never know what goes on behind closed doors,” says Kelli, who asked that her last name not be used.

Worlds Apart: Vast Disparities In Treatment Separate Americans With HIV

Jan 4, 2016

A major insurer said recently it would offer life insurance to HIV-positive people because of their rising life expectancies, prompting cheers from AIDS activists. But on the very same day,  the nation’s top disease control official described an America falling far short in its fight against AIDS.

Environmental Factors Play Heavily into Cancer Risks, Study Says

Dec 30, 2015
Exposure to ultraviolet rays, as in a tanning bed, is one well-known extrinsic factor that can lead to cancer. But there may be many factors scientists don't yet know about.
Evil Erin via Flickr

Researchers say environmental exposures and behavior weigh heavily on the development of 70 to 90 percent of cancers.

The research, by a group at Stony Brook University in New York, shows only 10 to 30 percent of cancers are attributed to random cell mutations.

Medical School Hopefuls Grapple With Overhauled Entrance Exam

Jun 30, 2015

It's T minus four days until exam day, and Travis Driscoll is practically living at his desk.

"Each day, I'm easily here for five hours," he says. "I haven't done much of anything else but studying for the last two months."

Driscoll is one of 13,000 medical school applicants across the U.S. taking the new Medical College Admissions Test, or MCAT. He's got stacks of science books on his desk to help him prepare and a rainbow of biochemistry charts pasted to the walls: glycolysis, citric acid cycle, electron transport chain, mitosis, meiosis and DNA replication.

California Sees Housing As Significant Investment In Health Care

Jun 4, 2015
The Star Apartments owned by the Skid Row Housing Trust is on Maple Avenue and 6th Street in Los Angeles, Calif.
Heidi de Marco / KHN

LOS ANGELES — Will Nebbitt lives on the 5th floor of a new downtown apartment building. From his window, he has a panoramic view of the Los Angeles skyline. He can also see Skid Row, where he spent decades sleeping on the ground.

Nebbitt, 58, says his body can’t handle life outside anymore. He has a seizure disorder, heart disease and depression. He’s had four operations, including bypass surgery on his leg in March.

“I am too old and sick to be back out there on the streets,” he said. “It kind of takes a toll on a person.”

Would Doctors Be Better If They Didn't Have To Memorize?

Apr 27, 2015

Poor old Dr. Krebs. His painstaking Nobel-winning work on cellular metabolism, called the Krebs cycle, has made him the symbol for what's ailing medical education.

"Why do I need to know this stuff?" medical students ask me.

"How many times have you used the Krebs Cycle lately?" senior doctors jokingly reminisce.

Why I Left The ER To Run Baltimore's Health Department

Jan 15, 2015

When I was just beginning my third year as a medical student, I learned an important lesson about what matters most in health.

It was a typical summer afternoon in St. Louis, with the temperature and humidity both approaching 100. My patient was a woman in her 40s who was being admitted to the hospital because her lungs were filling with fluid, a complication of kidney failure. She had missed all three dialysis appointments that week.