Kara Leigh Lofton

Appalachia Health News Coordinator

Kara Leigh Lofton is the Appalachia Health News Coordinator at West Virginia Public Broadcasting. In 2016, Kara filed 140 reports aimed at healthcare consumers in West Virginia and adjacent regions, with topics ranging from health insurance policies to midwife-assisted home births. Kara’s stories were about evenly divided between her radio reports and short pieces she wrote for internet readers. Eight stories reached a national audience through NPR’s “All Things Considered” and “Morning Edition,” including several pertaining to the impact of record-breaking flooding in West Virginia and the threatened loss of health benefits for former miners. Kara’s radio stories are often illustrated by her own photographs, posted on WVPB’s website.

Previously Kara was a freelance reporter for WMRA, an affiliate of NPR serving the Shenandoah Valley and Charlottesville in Virginia. One of her nationally broadcast reports, “Trauma Workers Find Solace in a Pause That Honors Life After a Death,” garnered a first place award for a feature story from the Virginia Association of Broadcasters.

Kara’s work has been published by Kaiser Health News, Medscape.com, The Hill (the news outlet and blog serving Congress), Side Effects Public Media, Virginia Living, and Blue Ridge Outdoors among other outlets. She has also written and photographed for Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Virginia, from which she earned a bachelor’s degree.

Prior to and during her university years, Kara had stints living internationally, spending months in Morocco, Spain, Turkey, and England, with shorter visits to Zambia, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and a half-dozen countries in western and central Europe. In the fall of 2015, she toured Guatemala (using her conversational Spanish), where she reported on its woefully underfunded health system. In her spare time, Kara enjoys hiking with her nurse-husband and their three friendly dogs, practicing yoga, and reading.

Ways to Connect

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The percentage of West Virginia adults aged 60 and older is growing more rapidly than any other part of the population.  And most of them, like 91-year-old Paige Omohundro, want to stay home as they age.

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From 2013-2017, the average annual health care spending for individuals with employer-sponsored insurance increased almost 17 percent nationwide. But some states felt the burden more than others. West Virginians with employer sponsored insurance, now have the highest per person spending. But it’s not that people are using health care more, it’s that the price is going up.

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More than 300 West Virginians on Medicaid overdosed between 2014 and 2016. Researchers from Johns Hopkins School of Public Health wanted to see what kind of care those people got afterward.

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We all know that exercise is good for physical health, but a new study has found that it may also help you focus, pay attention and achieve goals as you age as well.

The Columbia University study published today in the online issue of the American Academy of Neurology, found that regular aerobic exercise such as walking, cycling or climbing stairs may improve a specific set of thinking skills called executive function. Executive function is basically a person’s ability to regulate their own behavior.

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A new study has found that long-term unemployment and a shortage of mental health providers is associated with higher levels of neonatal abstinence syndrome.

The study was published this week in the journal of the American Medical Association. It looked at how county economic factors – particularly unemployment rates – were related to the number of babies born with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome or NAS. NAS happens when a baby withdraws from drugs they were exposed to in the womb.

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A new study has found that young children who are exposed to high levels of screen time have delays in developmental outcomes such as language, communication, motor skills and emotional health.

Published this week in the pediatric journal of the American Medical Association, researchers looked at the screen time habits of a group of 2 year-old-children and their development. They studied the group again at 36 months (a year later) and then at 60 months and found that excess screen time may harm children’s ability to develop optimally.

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On set for the Legislature Today, health reporter Kara Lofton spoke with Bob Hansen, the new director for the West Virginia Office of Drug Control Policy, and Brian Gallagher, chair of the Governor’s Council on Substance Abuse, Prevention and Treatment about what’s being done to help get a handle on West Virginia’s opioid crisis. 

Appalachia Health News is a project of West Virginia Public Broadcasting, with support from Marshall Health and Charleston Area Medical Center.

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Secondhand smoke exposure rates remain high, according to a new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report. About a quarter of nonsmoking US citizens are exposed, and almost 40 of children.

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A new study has found that older adults who weren’t sedentary did better on thinking and memory skills tests. Exercise didn’t have to be complicated – it could be walking or even moderately physical housework, but the researchers found that movement may be essential to preserving thinking and memory skills when there are signs of dementia in the brain.

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Fighting the drug epidemic continues to be a top priority for lawmakers and public health officials in West Virginia. Yesterday, West Virginia School of Public Health hosted a panel on harm reduction – focusing on medical, law enforcement and community strategies around syringe exchange programs.

 

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The cost of prescription drugs is rising, both for existing brand-name drugs and for newly produced generic drugs.  This finding comes from a University of Pittsburgh study.

 

For instance, the cost of insulin has risen dramatically, though it is the same product that people have been using for years. The study’s authors say that the reason is simply that companies are jacking up their prices to make more money.

 

Courtesy of the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center

Americans with knee osteoarthritis may soon have a less invasive option than knee replacement to relieve pain. Surgeons at Ohio State University Medical Center performed the first surgery in the U.S. to implant a device designed to slow the progression of the disease and extend the life of the original joint.

 

 

More than 4.7 million Americans are living with a knee replacement, according to a Mayo Clinic study. And more than 30 million American adults are living with osteoarthritis.

 

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Age-related hearing loss is associated with conditions such as cognitive impairment and dementia. A new study has found it may have one more association -- depression.

 

 

More than 5000 Hispanic participants over the age of 50 were tested for hearing loss and screened for depression.

 

Researchers found that the greater the hearing loss in the elderly, the more likely they were to be depressed.

 

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A new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Report found that across the United States, drug overdose deaths involving opioids continue to increase. And West Virginia still leads the nation in the number of overdose deaths, but the drug of choice seems to have changed from prescription opioids to synthetic opioids.

Kara Lofton / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

A dozen fifth-graders from Valley Elementary School in Fayette County have been exploring radio in a youth reporting project with health reporter Kara Lofton this semester.

The idea was to help kids learn how to ask questions about health issues in their community, while also teaching interview and reporting skills. At the end of the semester, students interviewed one another about their favorite holiday traditions. The result can be heard in the following two audio postcards. 

Kara Lofton / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Almost all major holidays around the world revolve around eating special foods together.

And for many people, food and the act of preparing certain foods call up memories from bygone years

As Chris Wharton, a professor of nutrition at Arizona State University put it: “Food represents a sort of defining narrative about us” and connects us to our families our  culture.

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A new study from Duke Medical Center has found that just three days a week of moderate aerobic exercise may improve thinking skills in older adults with cognitive impairments.

 

 

 

The study looked at older adults who were having trouble concentrating, making decisions or remembering -- but didn’t have severe enough symptoms to be diagnosed with dementia.

 

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A new study from the West Virginia University School of Nursing suggests that loneliness may be making it harder for middle-aged Appalachians to manage chronic health conditions.

The study looked at 90 Appalachians ages 45-64, each with at least one chronic illness, such as diabetes, obesity and high blood pressure. Using surveys, researchers tracked how lonely or socially supported participants were and then measured levels of anger, depression and how those related to their physical and mental health.

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A new study has found that cardiology patients with opioid use disorders have more complications, longer hospital stays and costlier surgeries.

The study looked at 5.7 million patients who underwent cardiac surgery and compared outcomes of those who had opioid use disorders and those who didn’t. While there wasn’t a significant difference the rate of death between the two groups, patients with opioid use disorders had more complications, longer length of stay in the hospital and higher costs.

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Results from a new small study found that more than one in four patients report underusing prescribed insulin because of the high cost of the drug.

At a diabetes center at Yale, Researchers surveyed around 200 patients with type 1 or 2 diabetes. They asked six variations on the questions – do you ever used less insulin than prescribed or don’t take insulin because of cost. They found that a quarter of patients reported using less insulin than they needed because of the high cost of the drug.  

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When the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department closed its harm reduction programs, one of the biggest criticisms of the program was that it led to an increase in crime, vagrancy and homelessness. Those claims are not without merit.

 

 


Ashton Marra

Current best practices for harm reduction programs include a couple provisions: No retractable needles should be distributed, patients should get as many needles as possible regardless of how many they bring back, and barriers to accessing needles should be as low as possible. But sometimes those recommendations are at odds with community acceptance for the practices.

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Less than two years after it began, the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department shut down it’s harm reduction program. Among other things, the program provided thousands of clean needles to drug users with the goal of reducing needle borne diseases, but faced significant pushback from some in the community.  

Todd Huffman via Flickr [CC BY 2.0]

Best practices for harm reduction programs call for flooding a community with clean hypodermic syringes. Research shows that in addition to reducing the prevalence of blood-borne pathogens in the community, well-run programs help remove potentially infectious syringes from the community. But some people say that wasn’t happening in Charleston.


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In December  2015, with support from the city of Charleston, the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department launched a harm-reduction program that included a needle exchange. The primary goal was to reduce the risk of diseases commonly spread by sharing needles.

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West Virginia's youth obesity rates have soared over the years, and a new report found that more than 35 percent of teens here are overweight or obese. A new statewide youth development organization is trying to address the problem, and teach resilience, by encouraging kids to enjoy their native hills -- on a mountain bike.

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West Virginia is in crisis. As the opioid epidemic grows, we are producing a generation of children impacted by addiction. In October of 2018, more than 6600 children were in the foster care system. And as of May 2018, 83% of open child abuse/neglect cases involved drugs.

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U.S. Attorney Mike Stuart announced Thursday a takedown of drug traffickers in Parkersburg that resulted in the seizure of more than 150 pounds of methamphetamine and 4 pounds of heroin. Officials say this is the largest seizure of methamphetamine in West Virginia’s history.

Stuart said the takedown resulted in the dismantling of a multi-state drug trafficking organization that was distributing meth and heroin in Parkersburg.

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West Virginia University has been awarded 11.2 million dollars to establish a center that focuses on what might make a tumor more likely to grow.

The National Institutes of Medicine awarded WVU a five-year grant to study microenvironments surrounding tumors. The idea is that just as a plant is likely to grow in a sunny garden, a benign tumor may be more likely to grow or become cancerous if its surroundings are primed for growth.

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Research from West Virginia University School of Medicine suggests that if teenagers vape into adulthood, the cardiovascular effects may be as bad as if they’d smoked cigarettes.

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