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2011: The year in health

by Healthy Living News

Special to the Tri-State Defender

1) 30th Anniversary of the HIV pandemic: It was a sobering milestone. Thirty million have died and less than half of the tens of millions infected with HIV that need treatment are getting it (millions with HIV don’t even know they are infected). In the U.S., new CDC data shows less than a third with HIV get optimal care. But there has been tremendous progress made including a 15 percent reduction of new infections this past decade and a 22 percent decline in AIDS-related deaths the last five years. For millions around the world, having HIV is no longer the death sentence it was in 1981.

2) HIV 052-study treatment as prevention: Announced in March, it was the most significant development in HIV prevention so far. It proved that treating those with HIV can reduce transmission of their virus by up to 96 percent. A major game changer! Now there is a chance to end the HIV pandemic, to create “a generation without HIV.” Despite funding problems, implementation controversies (PrEP and circumcisions) and research setbacks (the VOICE gel study), the consensus seems to be that it still can be done. The human race can end the AIDS pandemic.

3) Hepatitis C drug breakthroughs: In 2011, new hepatitis C drugs significantly increased cure rates (to almost 70 percent), even among those chronically infected. And even more new HCV drugs are on the way.

4) The global obesity problem: Feeling more and more...crowded? Perhaps its because we are fat and getting fatter. In July, The Lancet reported nearly 1.5 billion adults in the world are overweight, and half a billion more obese. Meanwhile, the Trust for America’s Health reported that obesity in the U.S. increased in 16 states over the past year, with no states seeing a decrease. With the exception of Michigan, the 10 most obese states were in the South. The Northeast and West had the lowest rates. In eight states, over 10 percent of adults have type 2 diabetes. The implications of a fatter world, more heart disease, stroke, diabetes, cancer, etc., etc.

5) Goodbye, food pyramid, hello, plate:  The USDA food pyramid switched to a colorful plate – called MyPlate – that divvies up the suggested diet to primarily fruits and vegetables (half), then some grains and proteins, followed by a dollop of dairy and healthy oils. Check it out at choosemyplate.gov.

6) Cancer screening confusion: Last year it was the mammogram mess. This year the confusion extended to prostate cancer screening. The question of for whom and when screening makes sense continued. What are the cost/benefits of screening? Should the focus be more on at risk cancer? Does screening detect cancers that don’t really need to be treated? What to do? Time and more research should tell. Meanwhile, CT scans for early detection of lung cancer may be a major breakthrough for early detection of lung cancer: In June, a NEJM study validated computer tomography as more effective screening tool than X-rays.

7) Know your cancer, know yourself: Knowing your cancer and then using targeted drug therapy to fight it led to big advances against melanoma, breast and lung cancers. As did genetic testing to know your own cancer risks. And fewer Americans are getting cancers, a new study showed, so prevention efforts such as reductions in hormone replacement therapy and cigarette smoking are working. Meanwhile, 2011 data showed cancer survivor-ship is increasing.

8) Cell phones cause cancer:  The World Health Organization announced mobile phone radiation may cause cancer. Some studies have been inconclusive while others show kids especially at risk. Telephone company-funded studies have claimed no risks for kids. Yet other interpreters of that data disagree.

9) Economy and its effect on health: The great recession may be officially over but it’s under-reported effects continue to take a toll on the health of Americans. Ten to fifteen million have lost health insurance. Studies also show the following: patients are canceling appointments, fewer are returning for recommended follow-up visits or refilling vital medications. Stats show poverty, homelessness and hunger are way up. Levels of stress, severe depression and suicides also are up, other studies show. So, 2012 can only get better, we hope.

10) Autism/MMR Vaccine Study a phony: Not only was the discredited study linking the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine to autism poor science, it was an intentional fraud, according to an investigation published in January by the BMJ. The so-called doctor behind the 1998 study, Andrew Wakefield, MD, continued to defend it on the talk show circuit, however, while 10 of his co-authors repudiated the research. Also this year, a major vaccine review study by Institute of Medicines showed no serious or unusual health problems connected with commonly given vaccines.

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