Patti Neighmond

Award-winning journalist Patti Neighmond is NPR's health policy correspondent. Her reports air regularly on NPR newsmagazines All Things Considered, Morning Edition and Weekend Edition.

Based in Los Angeles, Neighmond has covered health care policy since April 1987. She joined NPR's staff in 1981, covering local New York City news as well as the United Nations. In 1984, she became a producer for NPR's science unit and specialized in science and environmental issues.

Neighmond has earned a broad array of awards for her reporting. In 1993, she received the prestigious George Foster Peabody Award for coverage of health reform. That same year she received the Robert F. Kennedy Award for a story on a young quadriplegic who convinced Georgia officials that she could live at home less expensively and more happily than in a nursing home. In 1990 she won the World Hunger Award for a story about healthcare and low-income children. Neighmond received two awards in 1989: a George Polk Award for her powerful ten-part series on AIDS patient Archie Harrison, who was taking the anti-viral drug AZT; and a Major Armstrong Award for her series on the Canadian health care system. The Population Institute, based in Washington, DC, has presented its radio documentary award to Neighmond twice: in 1988 for "Family Planning in India" and in 1984 for her coverage of overpopulation in Mexico. Her 1987 report "AIDS and Doctors" won the National Press Club Award for Consumer Journalism, and her two-part series on the aquaculture industry earned the 1986 American Association for the Advancement of Science Award.

Neighmond began her career in journalism in 1978, at the Pacifica Foundation's Washington D.C. bureau, where she covered Capitol Hill and the White House. She began freelance reporting for NPR from New York City in 1980. Neighmond earned her bachelor's degree in English and drama from the University of Maryland, and now lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two children.

More than 1 in 4 adult Americans say they've recently suffered a bout of low-back pain. It's one of the most common reasons people go to the doctor. And more and more people are being treated for it.

America spends more than $80 billion a year on back pain treatments. But many specialists say less treatment is usually more effective.

About one-third of American adults say they have problems falling asleep. And prescriptions for sleeping medications are on the rise, with about 4 percent of people using the drugs, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But sleep specialists say people should exercise caution before deciding to take medication to help them sleep.

A teen's relationship — or lack of good relationship — with parents, pals or teachers may have a lot to do with why most kids aren't getting the nine to 10 hours of sleep that doctors recommend. The hormonal disruptions of puberty likely also play a role.

When high school junior Nora Huynh got her report card, she was devastated to see that she didn't get a perfect 4.0.

Nora "had a total meltdown, cried for hours," her mother, Jennie Huynh of Alameda, Calif., says. "I couldn't believe her reaction."

Nora is doing college-level work, her mother says, but many of her friends are taking enough advanced classes to boost their grade-point averages above 4.0. "It breaks my heart to see her upset when she's doing so awesome and going above and beyond."

It's really only a sliver of time when humans build the bulk of their skeleton. At age 9, the bones start a big growth spurt. And by the time puberty ends, around 14 or 15 years old, the adult-sized skeleton is all but done, about 90 percent complete.

But doctors say a lot of children aren't getting what they need to do that. Calcium and vitamin D are essential, sure, but so is lots of time jumping and running.

If you're among the estimated 27 million Americans who suffer from osteoarthritis of the knee or hip, then perhaps you've tried the nutritional supplements glucosamine and chondroitin. They've been marketed for joint health for about 20 years, and sales are still brisk. But do they help?

Some horses might say yes. The supplements were first tried in horses, and there's some evidence that the supplements might improve joint function for them.

Chances are, you've seen it in your local grocery store. Maybe you've even mustered the courage to taste it — or at least take a whiff.

Once mostly a product of health food stores and hippies' kitchens, kombucha tea is now commercially available in many major grocery stores.

And people aren't necessarily scooping it up for its flavor. Its taste has been described as somewhere between vinegar soda and carbonated apple cider.

Under the Affordable Care Act, more insurance plans are expected to start covering the cost of obesity treatments, including counseling on diet and exercise as well as medications and surgery. These are treatments that most insurance companies don't cover now.

The move is a response to the increasing number of health advocates and medical groups that say obesity should be classified as a disease.

The good news: Cigarette sales are down by about a third over the past decade. Not so for little cigars and cigarillos. Their sales more than doubled over the same time period, in large part owing to the growing popularity of these little cigars among teenagers and 20-somethings.

The appeal among young people has lots to do with the large variety of candylike flavors in the little cigars, according to Jennifer Cantrell, director of research and evaluation at the anti-tobacco Legacy Foundation.

When Sally O'Neill's doctor told her she had an early form of cancer in one of her breasts, she didn't agonize about what she wanted to.

The 42-year-old mother of two young girls wanted a double mastectomy.

"I decided at that moment that I wanted them both taken off," says O'Neill, who lives in a suburb of Boston. "There wasn't a real lot of thought process to it. I always thought, 'If this happens to me, this is what I'm going to do.' Because I'm not taking any chances. I want the best possible outcome. I don't want to do a wait-and-see."

Chances are that if you've ever lost weight following a strict diet and exercise regimen, you've also reached the diet plateau. On that lonely plateau, pounds never seem to melt away, no matter how hard you try to shed them.

You're not alone. Consider the plight of Susan Carierre. When the 5-foot-6-inch Carriere hit 230 pounds, she decided to enroll in a weight-loss program at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center near her home in Baton Rouge, La.

Every year more than a quarter of a million Americans have total hip replacement surgery. It's almost always a successful operation that frees patients from what's often described as disabling pain.

But in recent years, there's been lots of discussion on the Internet about "anterior approach" hip replacement, a surgical technique that's different than the standard procedure. It's one that proponents say can lead to quicker recovery, three to four weeks compared to six to eight weeks for typical surgery.

Depression can have physical consequences. Research now suggests that when people get depressed in middle age and beyond, they're more likely to develop dementia in old age.

But the link between depression and dementia remains something of a mystery. Researchers are working to understand why that occurs and what might be done to prevent dementia.

For many years, high medical bills have been a leading cause of financial distress and bankruptcy in America. That pressure may be easing ever so slightly, according to a survey released earlier this week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But 1 in 5 Americans still face hardships due to medical costs — and African-Americans continue to be the hardest hit.

Patients struggling with obesity can have a tough time finding the right doctor, according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

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