2012 Year in Review: Top Health Stories, Major Progress Across Globe



From public health and health care reform to global health and infectious diseases, it has been quite the year for health.  Enjoy a cup of coffee (a study by the National Institutes of Health released in May found coffee is good for you) while perusing these top health stories from 2012.


Affordable Care Act Upheld by U.S. Supreme Court

On June 28, the Supreme Court (SCOTUS) voted to uphold key elements of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act (Obamacare).  Chief John Roberts joined the court's left-wing in the 5-4 vote.  SCOTUS ruled the individual mandate constitutional, requiring every American to either purchase health insurance or pay a penalty; but ruled Medicaid expansion unconstitutional and only an option for states to participate.  Cave in and buy insurance or resist and pay the penalty?


New York City soda ban

On September 13, the New York City Board of Health approved the infamous soda ban proposed and championed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg.  Considered to be the largest step taken by a large city to curb obesity, the ban means large sodas and sugary drinks over 16 ounces will no longer be sold at restaurants, street carts and concession stands.  Good move for public health or a violation of consumer freedom?


HIV breakthrough moves one step closer to vaccine

October 22 saw the announcement of a major breakthrough in HIV research from South Africa, where two scientists discovered “a vulnerability in the virus that enables the body to produce a ‘broadly neutralizing antibody response’.”  This discovery comes on the heels of Myron Cohen’s HIV study named Science’s 2011 Breakthrough of the Year.  HIV research has really been gaining ground over the past few years.  Are we close to finding a vaccine?


Alzheimer’s gene discovery

On November 14, scientists announced the discovery of a gene mutation that triples the risk for Alzheimer’s disease, a rare mutation that occurs in about 1 in 150 people.  Led by researchers in Iceland and the United Kingdom could lead to understanding about the causes of Alzheimer’s disease and possible treatments.  Will we ever know?


Amanda Todd suicide and bullying

October saw the suicide of Amanda Todd, a Canadian teenager who experienced significant cyberbullying and even physical assault in school.  Todd, 15, posted a heart-wrenching cry for help on YouTube just a month before taking her life.  This high-profile suicide captured the hearts of many, placing great media attention on the tragic consequences between bullying and mental health issues.  When will we realize that mental health is an issue that warrants serious discussions and reform?


Whooping cough

2012 has been a record year for whooping cough, or pertussis, as there have been about 34,000 cases.  There have been 16 reported deaths, the majority of which were babies under three months of age.  Washington State declared a whooping cough epidemic as there have been over 4,500 reported cases – seven times more than 2010.  The pertussis vaccine is said to lose effectiveness over time.  Will this number continue to grow over the years or can we curb the spread?


Komen for the Cure vs Planned Parenthood

Following a huge outcry from the world’s largest breast cancer charity, the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation reversed its decision to cut funding for Planned Parenthood, which provides abortion and birth control services.


Revisions to National School Lunch Program

After years of frustration about the poor quality of school lunches, Michelle Obama joined the USDA to announce new standards for school meals, the first set of revisions to the National School Lunch Program in 15 years.  The revisions will improve the health and nutrition of nearly 32 million children participating in daily school meal programs.  Is Michelle Obama the champion of healthy living in America?


Life-saving oxygen particle by Dr. John Kheir

On June 27, Dr. John Kheir from Boston Children’s Hospital announced the development of an injectable foam suspension that contains oxygen-filled microparticles.  These intravenous shots could save lives in emergency situations by rapidly reoxygenating blood.  Imagine a shot of oxygen that can keep someone alive, even when they aren’t breathing – sounds pretty sci-fi, but it is reality.


Gates-funded toilet of the future

On August 14, Bill Gates gave a $100,000 prize to the California Institute of Technology for its work on a self-contained, sun-powered system that recycles water and breaks down human waste into storable energy.  Gates has prioritized health improvements in developing countries, as he looks at innovative ways to reinvent the toilet and combat disease.  Does this invention see any future promise?


Marijuana legalization in Colorado and Washington states

On November 6, voters in Colorado and Washington states voted to legalize recreational marijuana.  However, the federal government still considers marijuana a Schedule 1 prohibited substance.  What will the United States see in the coming years as pro-marijuana advocates plan to target seven more states with legalization campaigns?


Tuberculosis drug approval

On December 31, the US Food & Drug Administration announced the approval of a new Johnson & Johnson tuberculosis drug, the first new drug in over 40 years.  It is designed to treat multi-drug-resistant TB.  Roughly one-third of the global population is said to be infected with tuberculosis-causing bacteria.  Will this major global health milestone play a role in reducing these numbers?