March 4, 2019
Q. You were a member of the French-American Foundation’s 2012 class of Young Leaders. What were some highlights of your experience as a Young Leader?
My experience in 2012 was fantastic and I remain very thankful for it. We had the opportunity to go to Paris and Le Havre, where we met key people in government and business and had many “behind the scenes” tours and discussions. Going to the Normandy beaches was also a high point.
The best part, I would say, was meeting a tremendous group of brilliant people. I remain very close friends with one in particular, a doctor who shares the same interests in public health. We hit it off immediately, and we continue to visit each other and grow from our friendship, both professionally and personally.
Q. You joined the Times in 2003—did you always know you were attracted to journalism, or was there a particular catalyst for you?
Actually, in college I was pre-med and had every intention of going to medical school. I started writing for the Yale Daily News, covering the science and tech beat, seeing it as a side hobby. But I enjoyed it so much that I ended up pursuing an internship at the New York Times. I was writing very small pieces—I started off essentially as a clerk—but I had the opportunity to see the impact of writing stories and the public’s response. The internship led to a position as a cub reporter, which led to my work today.
I had wanted to be a doctor to be able to have an impact on public health, but I saw that I could have an equally important impact by writing about public health and wellness for a large audience. I’m a curious person by nature, and by being a science and health reporter, I also satisfy my curiosity because I learn about a seemingly endless number of health-related topics. I can pick up the phone and call leading thinkers and researchers, and then share those ideas with the public—which I find tremendously rewarding.
Q. Your current focus is the intersection of food and health, a theme that’s been at the center of a lot of recent public policy discussions. What topics related to food and health are you currently finding the most noteworthy?
One topic that I’ve found to have special importance is chronic disease and its impact on public policy. As a nation, we spend so much money on health care, but our health outcomes are not very impressive. Rates of lifestyle-related and diet-related chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease, and obesity are soaring. I’ve tried to write a lot about these diseases, how people can protect themselves, and how our society as a whole can tackle these issues from a policy standpoint.
Q. What are you reading lately, and what reading would you recommend for people who are interested in health and wellness?
One book I’m reading right now is “Deep Medicine: How Artificial Intelligence Can Make Healthcare Human Again” by Eric Topol. It’s about how the doctor-patient relationship has become inhuman and how, maybe paradoxically, artificial intelligence can help. One opportunity of AI systems is that they can be trained to go through thousands, if not millions, of imaging scans and learn to spot abnormalities and diagnose cancers at a rate better than humans. That, in turn, can free physicians to focus on the patient and the human-centered healing process.
Another book I’m reading is “Brain Rules for Baby: How to Raise a Smart and Happy Child from Zero to Five” by John Medina. It shares what the latest science says about raising smart and happy kids. I’m reading this one because my wife and I are expecting a baby in March!
You can read more by Anahad O’Connor at his New York Times profile page.