Appalachia Health News

Appalachia Health News tells the story of our health challenges and how we overcome them throughout the region. 

Reporter Kara Leigh Lofton covers topics such as women’s health, chronic disease and substance abuse.

Her reports document the health-related innovation, improvement and success within the Appalachian region.

Follow her on twitter at @KaraLofton and #Appalachiahealth

Appalachia Health News is produced with support from CAMC, and Marshall Health.

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WVU Prevention Research Center is one of 25 academic instutitions to receive five years of funding for public health prevention research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Researchers will use the grant to develop youth substance abuse prevention programs in two West Virginia counties based on an Icelandic model.

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The National Institutes of Health has begun a clinical trial on a drug designed to treat cravings associated with opioid use disorder. 

There are a handful of drugs already on the market that are commonly used to treat OUD such as methadone, buprenorphine and naltrexone. But these are either synthetic opioids or have little impact on cravings specifically. The new drug, if successful, will focus on targeting the cravings felt by some patients who have OUD – and hopefully help them maintain sobriety.

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West Virginia University researchers have found that suicide rates are higher among some Medicaid-insured youth than those with private insurance. 


The researchers analyzed suicide trends among 10-to-18-year-olds in 16 states. They found that the suicide rate for Medicaid-insured youth ages 10-to-14 of both sexes was higher than in non-Medicaid youth.


Lead researcher Dr. John Campo said the difference may be because kids in the Medicaid population may be exposed to more trauma than wealthier peers. Trauma is associated with suicide risk.


Kara Lofton / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Hollywood tells us that love stories are about the beginning -- catching an eye across a crowded room, a first date, a dramatic proposal. We see little, if anything, after the fairytale wedding. But for many, the greatest testament to love is not the first moments, but the last.

And, for some of us, navigating the last moments means asking for help.

United for Medical Research

In its proposed budget released this week, the Trump administration called for big cuts to national medical and science funding institutions. In response, a medical research advocacy organization has published a brief on the impact of National Institutes of Health funding.

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Kentucky may become the 34th state to license certified professional midwives after the State House of Representatives voted 96-1 on a bill to establish a state license. 

Certified Professional Midwife is a credential developed by the North American Registry of Midwives. These midwives aren’t nurses or doctors but do have specific training, clinicals and must pass an exam in order to obtain licensure. They specialize in providing maternity care for women wanting to give birth at home and in birthing centers.

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Three WVU researchers surveyed more than 2200 teachers in 49 counties on how the opioid crisis has impacted classrooms.

Courtesy of Faith in Action

Caring for loved ones as they age can be incredibly demanding. It can also leave the caregiver feeling forsaken by society -- especially as families move away from the home base, leaving fewer people to share responsibilities.

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Researchers at West Virginia University Cancer Institute are studying whether a blood test could detect colorectal cancer.

According to a press release, the first of its kind blood test looks for an abnormal gene associated with colorectal cancer. If the gene is detected after the screening test, a healthcare provider would recommend the patient for a colonoscopy. Colonoscopies are semi-invasive procedures used to diagnose and treat precancerous tumors or early cancer.

Kara Lofton / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Cheryl Powell lives in senior housing in Nitro. She’s  63 years old and has been receiving Meals on Wheels for a couple of years.


“Because I’ve had strokes and different things wrong with my body,” she explained.  

After her strokes, Powell really couldn’t get out to grocery shop. Or go anywhere for that matter.

“I’m blind in this eye and I’m getting cataracts in this one, so it’s hard,” she said.

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Four rural West Virginia community health centers will be awarded about 14 million dollars from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The awards are split between Community Health Systems, Community Care of West Virginia, New River Health Association and Shenandoah Valley Medical System. Each health center has multiple locations, spreading across most of the state.

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Several studies have shown that being exposed to light at night can throw off our biological rhythms. A WVU neuroscientist is now exploring whether limiting exposure to light at night may be a new way to treat weight gain.

Randy Nelson, chair of the Department of Neuroscience at the West Virginia University School of Medicine, found that exposure to light, even in small doses like a nightlight, can cause weight gain in animal models.

KaraLofton / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

This story is part of an ongoing series examining aging in Appalachia. You can read more here.

As we grow old, many of us will find we need help with everyday tasks, like cooking, cleaning and bathing.

In West Virginia, there are few programs that can help, and those that do serve the state’s aging population are overburdened -- with waitlists that can stretch months or years -- or require applicants to qualify for Medicaid.

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A new study has found that Medicaid expansion through the Affordable Care Act led to a profound impact on diagnosis and survival rates of colorectal cancer in parts of Appalachia.

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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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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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**This story is part of a youth reporting project between the Fayette Institute of Technology and West Virginia Public Broadcasting. It was written by high school seniors Chloe Perdue and Keesha Moore with support from health reporter Kara Lofton.**

In today’s technology-centric society, smartphone use, especially among American teenagers, is ubiquitous.

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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.


High School Journalists Find No Regulation of Sugar in School Breakfast

Jan 2, 2019
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**This story is part of a youth reporting project between the Fayette Institute of Technology and West Virginia Public Broadcasting. It was written by high school seniors Katie Cameron and Tabitha Gill with support from health reporter Kara Lofton.**


A lot of research says  sugar is bad for us, but federal nutritional standards for school meals don’t regulate sugar consumption. And this means some elementary school students in West Virginia are eating a lot of it -- especially for breakfast.



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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.