Meet the Founder
Pediatrician Neil Izenberg, MD, founded KidsHealth.org way back in September 1995 — when the web was just starting. KidsHealth was one of the first online health information sites, and the first site devoted to the health of children and teens. Now, KidsHealth is the #1 most-visited site on the web about children's health.
To celebrate KidsHealth's 1 billionth visitor, the editors of KidsHealth sat down with Dr. Izenberg to ask him to share some of what he's learned along the way.
Q: KidsHealth just had its billionth site visit, an incredible number for a health site, or any site. What is it about KidsHealth that attracts so many visits?
A: Our visitors tell us that they like how KidsHealth speaks to them in ways that they understand, without any complicated, confusing doctor-speak. They like that we talk about everyday issues they face. They like the advice, perspective, and comfort we provide. And they trust us.
Q: KidsHealth covers more than what to do when kids or teens are sick or have a medical condition. Why is that?
A: For kids or teens with asthma or a weight problem, or for someone worried about cancer or feeling depressed, it's important to find out what to do to be as healthy as possible. To KidsHealth, being healthy means being able to do your best, physically and emotionally. It means growing to your maximum potential, doing well in school and having the best family life you can have, even when some of those things seem difficult. It means being able to understand your own body, your own feelings, and those of others. Even if you have a medical or emotional condition, being healthy means being able to meet challenges — and being the best possible you that you can be.
Q: Why does KidsHealth have separate areas for parents, kids, and teens?
A: That's one of the things that make KidsHealth different from just about every other health site. Parents, kids, and teens each have different concerns that they focus on and different ways of thinking about issues. They each need their own answers. So on KidsHealth, each group has its own editors and graphic artists. We hope we can help parents, kids, and teens understand each other a bit better, too.
Q: What are the top issues that people are reading about on KidsHealth?
A: Well, they're reading everything. KidsHealth has more than 10,000 articles, videos, animations, and other features. To a great extent, what they're reading depends on their age or whether they're reading about a health concern they have or doing a school assignment.
In general, kids want to learn how their bones, heart, and digestive system work; how to get muscles and be fit; what happens during puberty; and icky subjects like boogers and burps.
Teens focus on learning about the right weight for their height; drugs; their emotional lives, including things like cutting; processes such as menstruation; infections like mono and staph; and, of course, if their bodies are normal.
Parents focus on having healthy pregnancies, whether their children are growing and developing normally, and infections such as chickenpox and Fifth disease.
Q: How did you come up with the idea of starting KidsHealth?
A: I've always been interested in teaching creatively — even before I became a pediatrician. I enjoy the challenge of making information understandable from the point of view of those who need it. Sometimes, doctors make information hard to understand — and I felt that we could do a better job of that. On my personal path, I've written books, helped develop board games, and produced educational videos. But when the Internet was developed, it seemed obvious that creating a great website would be the best way to reach people all over the world.
Q: What are top milestones in the history of KidsHealth?
A: Of course, it was great to become the #1 most-visited site about children's and teens' health — both in English and in Spanish. And it's always great to be recognized in the press and through awards. The billionth visitor, however, seems especially exciting.
Q: If you had unlimited resources, what would be the first thing you'd do to improve KidsHealth?
A: We have lots of creative ideas we'd like to work on. We're already making an extensive series of fantastic health video programs for use on and off the site, but we want to make more. We're developing Smartphone apps and fun games to help people achieve their own goals. And we want to partner with other companies to have an even greater positive impact both in the United States and around the world. There's so much more to do.
Q: What changes do you foresee in how organizations will be providing health information — and how parents, kids, and teens will be accessing it — over the next decade?
A: Many exciting things are happening both in science and in the ways that information is presented and shared. More than ever, innovators are developing creative ways to help people understand and keep track of their own healthy behaviors — and these will be linked to everyday life in new, powerful ways. Health organizations need to be right there, leading this important trend, or they'll be left in the dust.
Q: Getting health information online is a great convenience, but it can also result in misinformation. How does KidsHealth make sure its information is accurate and up to date?
A: The web is a great place to learn about health — and just about anything. But it's also littered with information that's only partly true and even just plain wrong. We know we have to be completely reliable and up to date — and we devote a lot of effort to make sure we are. The KidsHealth team includes doctors involved in everything we publish; additionally, hundreds of other physicians, psychologists, therapists, and other health experts from all over the nation review our content. We regularly look at everything we do — whether online, in video, or in print — to make sure it's the best, most up-to-date information available. We take this very seriously.
Q: What was your major in college?
A: Anthropology at Columbia. It's all about people, how and why they do things, and how — underneath all the differences — we have so much in common.
Q: If you had to choose another career, unrelated to children's health, what would it be?
A: That's a tough question. I love what I do, but if forced to do something else, I'd still be involved in creatively helping people learn and make positive choices. I've always enjoyed making videos and writing, so perhaps I would have been a documentary filmmaker or run a foundation devoted to children and learning. But, some days, especially during the summer, being an ice cream maker sounds like a really good idea. Ah, peppermint stick.