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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University October 13, 2008 | Vol. 38 No. 7
Johns Hopkins' Consumer Health Maven

For 20 years, Simeon Margolis, a professor of medicine and biological chemistry, has been the man behind 'Health After 50' and Johns Hopkins' white papers addressing ailments from diabetes to prostate disease.
Photo by Will Kirk/HIPS

Simeon Margolis' passion is delivering medical info the public can trust

By Greg Rienzi
The Gazette

To say that Simeon Margolis, a professor of medicine and biological chemistry at the School of Medicine, has an attention to detail might be a supreme understatement.

Case in point: Margolis pulls out the "final" proof of a recent edition of the Johns Hopkins medical letter, Health After 50, a publication he's overseen since its founding by an outside publisher in 1988. Margolis had made copious edits and notes on the cover page alone, pointing out concerns with style and clarity.

To put it bluntly, nothing is ever final until Margolis has signed off. He takes the role as medical editor for Johns Hopkins' consumer health publications — an unofficial title he's held for 20 years now — very seriously.

Margolis said that a health publication, especially one with the Johns Hopkins name on it, has to be 100 percent reliable.

"I've always been annoyed when magazines and newspapers write on health issues but get it all wrong, or don't provide enough background," Margolis said. "One of the reasons I got involved with consumer health publications is that I wanted to provide information to the general public that was accurate. They are exposed to all kinds of inaccurate information, and that has only gotten worse with the advent of the Internet. They are some really good resources out there, but also a lot of junk."

To celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Health After 50 newsletter and Margolis' role as consumer health champion, Johns Hopkins Medicine will host a reception in his honor from 4 to 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 15, in the Houck Lobby of the Phipps Building. The invitation-only event will feature Peabody musicians and a plaque presentation by Edward Miller, dean of the medical faculty and CEO of Johns Hopkins Medicine.

Known to friends and colleagues as "Moan," a nickname he picked up during his hoop-playing days in high school, Margolis has spent nearly his entire career at Johns Hopkins.

He came as an undergraduate to JHU, where he was a standout on the varsity men's basketball team. His single-game scoring record of 44 points still stands, a fact he's proud to point out. He earned his medical degree from the School of Medicine, and after a two-year stint with the National Institutes of Health, he returned to Johns Hopkins in 1961 and has been here ever since, in varying roles as professor, researcher and administrator. From 1968 to 1982, Margolis was director of the Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism in the Department of Medicine. From 1992 to 1997, he was co-director of the Ciccarone Center for Prevention of Coronary Disease.

Margolis first became involved with consumer health in 1987, when he served as the School of Medicine's associate dean for academic affairs, a position he held from 1984 to 1992.

The Baltimore Sun had approached Johns Hopkins about becoming involved with a health supplement. The newspaper wanted someone who could authoritatively write a weekly column.

Joann Ellison Rodgers, who is now executive director for marketing and communications for Johns Hopkins Medicine, said that she and others in the media office immediately knew that Margolis was the perfect man for the job.

"He is just a great generalist and an incredible teacher," Rodgers said. "We thought it would make for a very happy marriage, and it did. Certainly at Johns Hopkins, Moan has pioneered the idea that a physician could go directly to the public through a column and talk about medical issues. He has been our face and voice for health issues for two decades now, and he's done it all the right way."

Margolis wrote for the Sun, sometimes twice a week, from October 1987 to June 1997. The columns where short but detailed. Margolis frequently laced his columns with his trademark wit.

One person had written to the paper that he and a group had just returned from Cancun with intestinal problems. He wanted to know how to avoid this from happening again.

"I said, 'Don't go to Cancun next time,'" Margolis said with a big grin. "Well, you know, it is a 500-word story. I had to be brief."

In 1988, a medical publishing firm in New York — then called Rebus and now part of Medizine — approached Johns Hopkins to partner on a new consumer health publication aimed at those over age 50. Once again, Margolis was tapped.

The articles for Health After 50 were vetted by an editorial board of School of Medicine faculty and written by freelancers and the publisher's staff in New York. In 1991, Margolis become medical editor of the publication, charged with reviewing the final draft of each issue. At its high point, the publication had 550,000 subscribers, and it is still going strong today.

Margolis has also served as medical editor for a number of books co-published by Johns Hopkins and Medizine, namely The Johns Hopkins Medical Guide to Health After 50, The Johns Hopkins Consumer Guide to Drugs and The Johns Hopkins Consumer Guide to Medical Tests.

He has also been intimately involved with the Johns Hopkins white papers, 50-page guides to common health problems written for a general audience and available by subscription. He wrote his first three in 1993, covering the topics of coronary heart disease, hypertension and arthritis. He has also authored or edited white papers on depression and anxiety, prostate disease, diabetes, low back pain, vision disorders and other topics.

"I've very proud of the white papers," he said. "To be honest, I think they are just very, very good."

From 1996 to 2000, Margolis was Hopkins' faculty editor of InteliHealth, the highly visible and successful consumer health Web site Hopkins produced in collaboration with Aetna Insurance.

Margolis said his work with consumer health publications has been a labor of love.

"I really enjoy doing it," he said. "I like to write, and to keep aware of the latest developments in medicine. People say I'm an endocrinologist and an expert on diabetes and obesity. This was a way of keeping up with areas outside my own specialty. I look it up, and I learn something. I'm always learning."

Since 2005, Margolis has written a medical blog for He originally wrote just on heart disease and diabetes for the blog, but he didn't want to be pigeonholed.

"Now I write about whatever I want, any subject that strikes my fancy," he said. "Actually, I have two columns due soon. I'm currently trying to decide what to write about."

With that, Margolis looks to the ceiling. He has a couple of subjects in mind, and he can't wait to start typing.

For a look at Health After 50, go to:

For more on the Johns Hopkins white papers, go to: and click on "special reports."


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