Special Report

15 of the Biggest Health Topics of 2019

Source: Sasiistock / Getty Images

11. Vaccination rates

The growing number of parents opting to not vaccinate their kids has grown into an anti-vaccination movement. It was major news in 2019, after various measles outbreaks were attributed to the growing trend. Thankfully, vaccination coverage remains relatively high – above 90% for serious conditions such as polio, hepatitis B, varicella, measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR).

Still, the anti-vaccination movement, which has been decades in the making, has had some impact — for third school year in a row, the share of kindergartners with an exemption, which can be either religious or based on personal beliefs, from at least one vaccine has increased slightly. An analysis by the National Institutes of Health found that celebrities such as Jenny McCarthy and Robert De Niro as well as politicians such as President Donald Trump have contributed to the rise of anti-vaxxers by claiming a false link between vaccinations and autism. (Trump has changed his tone and now urges vaccinations.)

A less talked about reason for missed vaccination deadlines is socioeconomic status. Poverty and health care access have been pointed out by some doctors as the reason for large coverage gaps between children living below the poverty line compared to kids in better-off families.

Source: michellegibson / Getty Images

12. Reversing arthritis

2019 has been an exciting year in the field of health technology and scientific research. In addition to the prospect of potentially saving thousands of lives by printing crucial human organs such as the heart, millions of people suffering from joint inflammation such as osteoarthritis, the most common form of arthritis, may be helped.

A recent study published in the Science Advances journal has found that “cartilage in human joints can repair itself […] to regenerate limbs.” (The body was believed to be unable to do so.) People have a molecule that helps with joint tissue repair, and that molecule is more active in ankles and less active in knees and hips. The findings can help develop treatments that may prevent, slow, or even reverse arthritis.

13. Antibiotic resistance is a growing peril

Health experts have been warning about antibiotic resistance for decades now. Antibiotic resistance occurs when drugs can no longer kill certain bacteria. It usually happens as a result of changes in the bacteria due to overuse of antibiotics. (Penicillin, a key to the decline of infections over the last few decades, is becoming obsolete, according to some research.) In April 2019, the United Nations (UN) issued an urgent warning on the overuse of antibiotics and antimicrobial drugs in people, animals, and plants. According to the UN, overuse is the reason for a growing number of pathogens becoming drug-resistant. Antibiotic resistance may result in 10 million deaths a year by 2050.

Currently, about 700,000 people worldwide die a year from drug-resistant diseases, according to the UN. In the United States alone, 35,000 people die from such conditions, and more than 2.8 million cases of antibiotic-resistant infections are reported annually, according to the CDC.

The World Health Organizations warns that a growing number of infections, including pneumonia, tuberculosis, gonorrhoea, and salmonellosis, are becoming antibiotic-resistant and thus harder to treat.

Source: 7postman / Getty Images

14. New way to treat prostate cancer

Prostate cancer is the most common type of cancer in men and the second biggest killer of men (after lung cancer) in the United States, with about 88 men dying from it every day, according to the Prostate Cancer Foundation. Survival rates are higher when the cancer is detected in the early stages before it has not spread to other parts of the body.

A new hormone therapy called enzalutamide (Xtandi) may improve survival rates among patients with metastatic prostate cancer as well. Enzalutamide works by blocking testosterone from reaching prostate cancer cells, potentially slowing the growth of cancer cells or causing them to shrink. A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine examined 1,125 patients with metastatic prostate cancer for nearly three years. The group undergoing treatment with enzalutamide had a significantly higher overall survival rate than group undergoing standard care.

Source: fotokostic / Getty Images

15. The world’s food supply is in jeopardy

The United States, the biggest greenhouse gas emitter in the world, announced in 2017 that it would withdraw from the Paris Agreement, which aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It seems that ever since, climate change awareness has been increasing. After several huge heat-fueled wildfires over the last two years and deadly hurricanes, polls now show that increasingly more Americans worry about global warming. Global warming, which climate scientists say is largely caused by humans, affects more than just the weather.

In August 2019, a UN report warned that climate change could trigger an unprecedented global food crisis. Heavier rainfalls and longer heat waves as a result of global warming can disrupt crops, resulting in loss of food. Increasing temperatures make soil less fertile, jeopardizing food security as well. Today, already more than 820 million people worldwide are undernourished, and more than 500 million live in areas where soil is being lost fast due to floods, droughts, and storms.