Most Stunning Health Changes of 2012

Family Health, Featured Article, Healthy Living
on December 3, 2012
2012's most stunning health changes.

It’s no surprise that in an election year, there were some major health changes. We take a look at the ones that made headlines—and will have the biggest impact on your life.

Obamacare’s Biggest Year Yet

2010 may be the year that Congress passed President Barack Obama’s healthcare legislation, but 2012 will be remembered as its true victory year. The landmark but controversial legislation—officially known as the Affordable Care Act—was upheld by the Supreme Court in June, and its fate was seemingly cemented when Obama won re-election in November. “Obamacare is the law of the land,” House Speaker John Boehner said days after the election when asked if Republicans would try to repeal the bill.

Some of the bill’s most significant health changes began to take effect in 2012, too, including free contraception coverage and an expansion of other free (no co-pay!) preventive services for women, including an annual well-woman visit, STI testing and breastfeeding support.

RELATED: Top Health Headlines of 2011

FDA Approves Weight Loss Drugs

For the first time since the millennium, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a prescription weight-loss drug—and not one, but two. Both drugs, Belviq and Qnexa, work primarily as an appetite suppressant, while Qnexa also contains topiramate, a medication for migraines and seizures that some obesity specialists already prescribe off-label for weight loss. Both drugs had failed to meet the FDA’s standards in 2010.

Hep C, STDs on the Rise in Boomers

In August, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) dropped a bomb: 1 in 30 baby boomers may have hepatitis C. The organization now suggests that anyone born between 1945 and 1965 be screened, even if they don’t have one of the traditional risk factors, as they may have contracted the disease before the country’s current blood screening protocol was established. Hepatitis C is the leading cause of liver transplants in the U.S., but symptoms can take decades to appear.

Several studies this year also suggested that STD rates are rising among seniors. The number of adults ages 45-64 with syphilis and Chlamydia have tripled in the last decade, and incidences of gonorrhea have also increased, according to the CDC. Seniors are more sexually active than ever, experts say, but they often don’t use protection since the risk of pregnancy has passed. Organizations like Safer Sex 4 Seniors are hoping to raise awareness of the importance of STD prevention as we age.

RELATED: Jon Secada: Bringing Hepatitis C Out of Hiding 

Bloomberg Bans Big Gulps in NYC

It’s not a health change with a wide geographic reach, but New York mayor Mike Bloomberg’s soda ban will affect more than 8 million people—and may be a sign of things to come. On the heels of a May CDC report that 42 percent of Americans could be considered obese by 2030, Bloomberg and the NYC Board of Health successfully implemented a ban on selling sugary drinks in containers larger than 16 ounces. It’s unclear yet whether other cities will follow suit, but Bloomberg’s initiatives have a history of sparking health changes elsewhere in the country. In 2006, he required calorie counts to be posted on restaurants in the city, and six years later the trend is widespread. McDonald’s announced in September that it would soon begin posting calorie counts for all menu items at its more than 14,000 locations nationwide.

RELATED: Soda Ban: Why It’s Bad

Two Major Cancer Charities Lose Leaders Amid Controversy

Two of the largest cancer charities in the country, Lance Armstrong’s Livestrong Foundation and Susan G. Komen for the Cure, both faced major changes and a flurry of bad publicity this year.

On Jan. 31, Komen announced that it would halt funding to Planned Parenthood, which provides low-to no-cost clinical breast exams and mammogram referrals across the U.S. An outpouring of support for PP and general uproar over what was seen as an overtly political move from a previously neutral organization forced Komen to backtrack and reinstate the funds. Several top officials resigned as a result, and in August, founder Nancy Brinker (sister of the organization’s namesake, Susan G. Komen, who died of breast cancer) announced that she was stepping down from her role as CEO.

The LiveStrong Foundation also lost its famous face amid controversy when Lance Armstrong resigned his position as chairman and his seat on the board of directors this fall, after the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency banned the cyclist from the sport for life and stripped him of his seven Tour de France titles.

Donations for Komen were reportedly down about midway through the year, but it remains to be seen what the full fallout will be for two of the country’s most visible nonprofit health organizations.

School Lunches Get a Healthy Makeover

After facing opposition from Congress late last year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture finally succeeded in making a series of health changes to school lunch programs. Led by First Lady Michelle Obama and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, the government announced in January that the new program will eliminate whole milk, require fruits and vegetables to be offered every day, limit calories, expand whole-grain options and aim to reduce saturated fat and sodium on an ongoing basis. The health changes will be phased in over the next three years, and cost an estimated $3.2 billion—costs supporters hope will be offset by the economic advantages of having healthier kids.