A New Column on Personal Health Comes to Atención

By Nancy Hall

I’m about to start the best (nonpaying) job of my almost 40-year career—writing a personal health column for this newspaper. I’m especially glad that my words will hopefully reach both expat and Mexican readers because many of the print pieces and video scripts I’ve written over the years were translated for Hispanic audiences in the US.

I have an odd combination of passions: writing and medicine. As a kid I filled notebooks with short stories and the beginnings of bad novels. But I also found the miracle of the human body fascinating. It still amazes me that such a complicated system chugs along day after day, working as it’s supposed to—most of the time. So I had a double major in college; and then in graduate school I found a program in the school of journalism that combined my competing interests. How lucky is that!

I’ve worked on some wildly diverse projects over the years—all with a goal of promoting health and preventing diseases. How many people can say they wrote a script for a video encouraging people to get a colonoscopy—and also starred in it? (Okay, Katie Couric and I can say that.) I’ve written billboards, TV and radio spots, and brochures to encourage people to call an ambulance if they felt the symptoms of a heart attack, despite the possible embarrassment of learning it was just heartburn. “When in doubt, check it out!” was the motto to remember. I’m happy to say that project helped save lives.

My job has taken me to American Indian reservations in Arizona and New Mexico (for diabetes), to Hispanic homes in Houston and LA (for heart disease and cancer), and to homes of the Gullah people of South Carolina, who speak an almost extinct language (for women’s health). My most recent project was writing all the materials for a 14-year study on weight loss and diabetes—the longest research project of its kind ever funded by the National Institutes of Health. So I have a particular interest and background in diabetes, which has become the scourge of both my native and adopted countries. I plan to write about various aspects of diabetes in future columns.

I believe that it’s what you don’t know that can hurt you. The more we understand how our bodies work and how we can best take care of them, the better chance we have of living longer, healthier lives. I also believe in evidence-based information. Everything I write comes from reliable sources and solid research. Anecdotal stories are fun—“My grandpa ate fatty meats and butter every day of his life and lived to be 93”—but I wouldn’t rely on one man’s good fortune to tell me how to best eat for my own health. I promise I won’t write anything that’s based on shaky science. I guess my motto for this column would be “health information you can trust.” Hopefully it will be interesting reading too!

 

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