1. Kicking butts: Declines in lung cancer deaths follow Uruguay’s strong tobacco control policies

    December 18, 2014

    Photo Credit: Matilde Campodonico, Associated Press

    In the public health world, it’s always a struggle to show the impact of health interventions, programs, or policies. Changes in key health outcomes – improved health behaviors, declines in deaths or the number of cases, or people living longer, healthier lives – usually take a long time to capture. By the time you see those changes, it’s often very hard to say “that policy saved x number of lives.”

    More than 1,000 collaborators working on the Global Burden of Disease (GBD) study – coordinated by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington – are starting to make it easier to connect those dots. The GBD collaboration is now providing annual updates on mortality trends – and most importantly, specific causes. Published this week in The Lancet, their latest work tracks how many people are dying and from what causes for 188 countries over time.

    Literally millions of stories can be found in this new body of results (or explored online with IHME’s data visualization suite). Today, we’re taking a deeper dive into a public health success story where the link between policy efforts and improved health outcomes is only tightening: tobacco control, and in particular, Uruguay’s efforts to take on its tobacco epidemic

    Between 1990 and 2013, when the global rate of lung cancer mortality was increasing by 16%, Uruguay recorded a 15% decline. To what can Uruguay attribute this decline? The South American nation’s tobacco control policies have been heralded as some of the world’s most successful. Smoking is a leading risk factor for developing – and dying from – lung cancer later in life. From 1980 to the mid-1990s, about 31% of Uruguayans were daily smokers. By 2012, daily smoking rates fell by 23%. Further, rates of early death and illness associated with smoking decreased 20% between 1990 and 2010. [Read more…]

  2. At El Paso Times, “Quenching the Future”

    December 16, 2014

    Photo: Mark Lambie

    Photo: Mark Lambie

    If you live, work, or farm around El Paso, Texas, here’s the bad news: The Rio Grande Basin is drying up.

    As the region’s population grows, as agriculture intensifies, and as extreme drought persists, El Paso’s water is disappearing. By the end of the century, water supplies in the Rio Grande from all sources will decrease by about a third, according to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. The river’s big reservoir at Elephant Butte, New Mexico, is less than 10% full.

    Bob Moore, editor of the El Paso Times, had been looking for a distinctive way into this story, which he knew would knew would shape the region for years to come. Now, he’s found it: “Quenching our Future,” an ongoing solutions-oriented examination of the region’s water supply, launched last month. The latest installments appeared this week.

    At first, “I thought the outlines [of the water story] were clear,” Marty Schladen, the lead reporter on “Quenching,” mused as the series began. “We live in the desert. There’s not much water. We waste too much. Instead of managing the Rio Grande Basin as a whole, Texas and New Mexico usually just sue each other.”

    It turns out to be a lot more complex. Per-capita water use in El Paso has dropped 41% since the 1970s, yielding the lowest consumption rate in the state. But that conservation success has been offset by a doubling of the city’s population. Meanwhile, agriculture saps up 80% of the region’s water – and irrigation is determined, as Schladen observes, by “a tangle of laws, interstate compacts and treaties that were written at a time when the government saw the West as an arid wasteland in need of settlement.” Those old policies “did a poor job of anticipating a time when there might not be enough water — no matter how far you diverted it or how many mountain ranges you pumped it over.”

    Meantime, a period of unusually wet weather has ended, creating the prospect of increasingly dire water scarcity in a region that’s not set up to accommodate more than incremental measures. How could the Times help El Paso navigate that challenging future? [Read more…]

  3. How Can Solutions Journalism Surface an Alternative Discourse on Racial Justice and Policing?

    December 13, 2014

    Photo Credit: Joshua Trujillo

    The deaths of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, and Trayvon Martin have ignited a wider national conversation about issues of class, power, and race in the United States today. New cases reinforcing racial bias by police are surfacing at a disheartening rate, from the fatal shooting in Cleveland of a 12-year-old boy holding an airsoft gun, to the three-year delay in obtaining an indictment for the shooting of an unarmed black man in South Carolina.

    To date, journalism’s role in this conversation has been seeking examples of bias to bring to light. But when the majority of coverage reinforces a repetitive discourse, how can we as a society progress? Research has shown that making people more aware of the prevalence of bias can actually lead to more discrimination.  When you show that a behavior is very common, you desensitize readers to it. It normalizes the behavior, which can have serious implications for news media: if we continually report on instances of bias (e.g. racial, gender, etc.) when they occur, without reporting on the other side of the story (when or where they are rare or being fought effectively), we will actually reinforce and normalize the idea that bias is okay, and even risk making it worse.

    Instead, journalism should draw attention to cases where prejudice is being fought effectively. Journalists should be focusing on unearthing the building blocks to a national response, rather than simply fueling a cycle of finger-pointing. This kind of journalism can spur change.

    How? Solutions journalism, defined as rigorous and compelling reporting on responses to social problems, can clarify how to approach stories with more than a mind to elucidate problems. Finding strong solutions stories relating to racial bias and discrimination can be difficult, but the trick lies in a creatively investigative approach: [Read more…]