Senior Fellow Liz Seegert is a healthcare journalist, writer, and consultant with a focus on social and human welfare.
This time of the year inevitably generates a plethora of “top 10” lists – the media’s bid to condense and summarize the “best of” or “worst of” [insert your topic here]. Health care, of course, is no different. A quick Google search of “top 10 health stories 2011” yielded a staggering two million plus results. Let’s get serious, folks.
Can there really be only ten health stories that are worthy enough to talk about? Or just one that rises to the top? Lists like these are so subjective. Boiling down this tumultuous year in the world of health into less than a dozen highlights all depends on perspective.
WebMD points to the changes in the food pyramid as a key issue, as well as changes in prostate cancer screeing guidelines and the widespread listeria outbreak from contaminated canteloupes. Fox News leaned more towards the sensational – asking if multivitamins were killing us, touting the ability to turn brown eyes blue with a laser, and reporting that baby shampoo may be toxic. Nothing like scaring millions of parents in one fell swoop.
The Atlantic Magazine focused on controversies – do cell phones harm people or not? Is coffee/red wine/chocolate good or bad for you? What about prostate exams? Or the fiery reaction provoked by HHS Secretary Sebelius’ decision to overturn the FDA’s proposal allowing the morning-after contraceptive Plan B to be sold over the counter? How about the links between autism and vaccines?
If you’re more of a policy wonk, then maybe your pick is the administration’s recent decision to allow states to determine minimum insurance benefits under health reform. Boston.com stretched their list to 15 top stories – including the full first face transplant, the resignation of Don Berwick, and a new way to look at the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. If you’re a baby boomer, then perhaps 50+ Magazine’s selections are more your speed – suicide prevention, stem cells, and Steve Jobs’s death were all high on this list.
Of course, this pre-election season could not go by without the candidates weighing in. Like when Michelle Bachman claimed that vaccines causes mental retardation. Or Mitt Romney tried to distance himself from his own Health Reform initiative when he was governor of Massachusetts. Newt Gingrich seemed to play both sides, as Salon magazine pointed out last week, while Ron Paul remained consistent in his libertarian views about the free market being the best option to control health costs.
However, perhaps the most chilling story that appeared on list after list is the growing childhood obesity epidemic in this country. As long as fast food chains, junk food, and soda manufacturers are allowed to aggressively market to children, it is unfortunately going to continue to be a top story well beyond 2012. If this problem isn’t brought under control soon, none of these other health stories will really matter.