Top Health Headlines of 2011

Featured Article, Healthy Living
on December 22, 2011

It was a year—like any other—that brought joy, tears, milestones and disappointments. Here we take a look back at some of the year’s most moving headlines.

The New Face of Healthcare

Key provisions of President Obama’s healthcare law went into effect in January, including those that cover screening colonoscopies and mammography as well as annual physicals and that aim to close the so-called Medicare “donut hole,” the coverage gap for prescription drugs. Republican  attempts to repeal or diminish the law are ongoing.

A Cowboy’s Last Ride

In June, country singer Glen Campbell, 75, made a shocking announcement: He has Alzheimer’s disease. And then, he promptly went on the road for his farewell tour. The reason he went public with his diagnosis was so that fans would understand the reason if he were to forget a few lines. Odds are, the fans could sing them for him.

A Champion’s Frame of Mind

In August, University of Tennessee women’s basketball coach Pat Summitt, 59, announced that she has early onset dementia. The stalwart coach, a legend by all accounts who was named Sportswoman of the Year by Sports Illustrated, plans to continue coaching as long as she is able.

Tomato Paste is the New Tomato

In a much-criticized plan that would shred the USDA suggestions for school lunch standards, Congress proposed in November that tomato paste on school lunch pizza continue to be counted toward daily vegetable intake. Critics say that Congress shouldn’t be dictating children’s nutrition standards, while Congress said the proposed guidelines would require too much spending.

Farewell, Food Pyramid

After hailing as the USDA’s nutritional guideline icon of choice since 1992, the Food Pyramid was finally laid to rest this year and replaced with My Plate on June 2. Critics claimed the colorful triangle that helped a generation of children understand what a balanced diet should look like failed to actually perform. Additionally, it was no longer accurate based on the ever-updated nutritional findings, deeming it irrelevant.

“She drank herself to death.”

Amy Winehouse, who publicly struggled with alcohol and drugs, was found dead on July 23 at the age of 27 in her London apartment. Autopsy results showed that the singer died from acute alcohol poisoning.


Steve Jobs, Apple’s CEO and the brains behind all-things-“i”, succumbed to pancreatic cancer on October 5 after a long and private battle against the disease. His delay in seeking Westernized medical care—preferring natural alternatives instead—was scrutinized post-mortem. Medical critics claimed he would still be alive had he sought proper medical care upon first learning of his cancer diagnosis.

Population Overload

The world’s population reached an all-time high when its 7 billionth member was born on October 31. Opinions were heard on both sides of the fence: too many people vs. the more the merrier.

And Baby Makes 20

The Duggars of TLC’s “19 Kids and Counting” fame announced on NBCs “The Today Show” in November that they were expecting their 20th child. Non-believers in birth control, they say they’ll keep having babies as long as the good Lord lets them. It was with sadness but peace that the Duggars announced one month later that mom Michelle, 44, had miscarried.

It All Began With a Ribbon

She was the heiress to the Estee Lauder Company founded by her mother-in-law, but perhaps an even more noteworthy attribution is the fact that Evelyn Lauder was the co-creator of the pink ribbon that is now synonymous with breast cancer awareness. Sadly, she died on November 12 of non-genetic ovarian cancer at the age of 75.

Obesity was “Medical Neglect”

A Cleveland third grader was removed from his mother’s care when officials determined that the mother was guilty of medical neglect by allowing him to become so overweight. Pundits are watching as the debate regarding personal responsibility and the role government entities have in monitoring individual health is ongoing.

HPV Vaccine Causes “Retardation”

That assertion by Republican Presidential candidate Michelle Bachmann sparked spirited defenses of the vaccine recommended for girls ages 11 to 26 and boys ages 9 to 26 to stop the spread of cervical cancer. Amid the controversy, research revealed that the vaccine sold under the brand name Gardasil also may prevent head and neck cancers in men.

Hormone Responsible for Yo-Yo Dieting Affect

Australian researchers confirmed in a small study that losing weight causes a drop in metabolism and an increase in appetite-stimulating hormones that may explain why so many people regain lost pounds. This could lead to hormone treatments to assist in permanent weight loss with further research.

To Test—or Not to Test: Part 1

We can thank our neighbors to the north for further fueling the controversy over whether women should begin having mammograms routinely beginning at age 40 or wait until 50. A Canadian task force in November agreed with a U.S. 2009 recommendation against mammography for women of “average risk” who are ages 40-49. Studies suggest that women stateside are having fewer mammograms, possibly delaying diagnosis and impacting survival.

To Test—or Not to Test: Part 2

Men and their doctors were thrust into their own testing controversy with the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force’s October draft recommendation advising that healthy men should forgo prostate specific antigen (PSA) testing. The government advisory board said data shows PSA testing doesn’t save lives among patients over age 65 and helps very few younger men. The panel also cited the unpleasant side effects that frequently result from treatment, including impotence and incontinence.

Vitamin D: The Key to Optimal Health?

2011 was the year of vitamin D. Study after study linked the nutrient, made by the body in response to sunlight, to serious conditions including cancer, heart health and obesity. One study of over 10,000 patients found that people who were deficient were three times more likely of dying from any cause than those who weren’t deficient, and that correcting a deficiency with supplements lowered their risk of death by 60 percent. In other research, low levels of vitamin D were linked to more aggressive forms of breast cancer, and obese kids with low vitamin D were more likely to have type 2 diabetes. Expect to hear more about the “sunshine vitamin” in 2012. 20 minutes of unprotected sun exposure daily is required to get the recommended amount; or fortified foods and supplements containing 200 to 400 IU daily, depending on age.

Cracking Down on Concussions

Concussions in both youth and professional sports made big news last year. Center for Injury Research and Policy of The Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital officials estimated that every day during football season, an average of fifty-seven 6 to 17 year olds are treated in U.S. emergency departments for football-related concussions. Kids who play soccer and hockey are also at risk. Several states passed laws requiring parents to be informed of the risks of concussion, among other actions. National Football League (NFL) and National Hockey League (NHL) procedures were heavily scrutinized as former players’ medical problems were reported in more depth. The suicide of 50-year-old Dave Duerson, a two-time Super Bowl champion with the Chicago Bears and New York Giants who suffered neurological problems after sustaining concussions during his career tragically put the risks and effects in the forefront. The NHL instituted a 15-minute required examination by a physician before players can return to the ice after a suspicious hit.

Full-body Scanners, Cellphones and CT Scans: Radiation Overload?

As the first full-body scanners hit major airports, igniting radiation (and privacy fears), research on the risks of repeated computed tomography (CT) scans garnered attention too. An August study showed that one in eight emergency room patients receive a CT scan, and another in December found that use among pediatric patients increase fivefold between 1995 and 2008. Such figures led the American Medical Association House of Delegates to adopt new policies aimed at reducing radiation exposure from diagnostic imaging for all patients. Policies include tracking a patient’s lifetime exposures, raising standards for technicians who use the devices and boosting awareness among patients about radiation risks. Suspicions regarding the danger cellphone signals pose to frequent users prompted the World Health Organization to designate cellphones as possibly carcinogenic in May.