Sex, drugs, and … well … the rockin’ and rollin’ of this election year.
Those were some of the main topics that dominated health news in 2016.
The year began with the burgeoning threat of the Zika virus and presidential candidates talking about Obamacare.
As the months wore on, marijuana legalization began to share the political spotlight.
Prescription drugs and e-cigarettes garnered their quotient of attention, too.
Along the way, 3-D printing and some new ways to create life provided us with some “wow” moments.
Here’s a look back at the health news in 2016 and how Healthline covered it.
Health and politics
The 2016 presidential election dominated the news in general, and the health field was no exception.
As the field of Republican candidates dwindled in January, Healthline took a look at where the major contenders stood on health-related issues.
As the campaign grinded on, we broke that down into more specific issues.
In May, when it became apparent Donald Trump would be the Republican nominee, we took a close look at what would happen if the healthcare plan outlined on his campaign website were actually implemented.
When Trump nominated Indiana Gov. Mike Pence as his running mate in July, the vice presidential hopeful’s record on women’s health issues, including his opposition to Planned Parenthood funding, became a focal point.
In September, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton unveiled a mental health reform plan that many in that field cheered.
The fall campaign became so bruising that some political experts became concerned about the physical toll it takes on candidates and whether the nation should consider a different approach.
However, no health-related issue dominated the campaign season more than the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
Trump promised to dismantle Obamacare while Clinton maintained the healthcare system just needed reform, not repeal.
The ACA made news of its own outside of the election.
In April, UnitedHealthcare executives announced they would significantly scale back their participation in ACA insurance exchanges in 2017.
Federal officials saw the announcement as simply growing pains for the new healthcare system, but others said the departure of the nation’s largest insurer was certain to cause rates to rise and choices to decrease.
Their concerns were bolstered in August when experts announced they expected everyone’s healthcare costs to increase in 2017.
Federal officials countered by saying they were targeting young adults to help balance the ACA system when the enrollment period opened on Nov. 1.
Meanwhile, the ACA was changing some of the ways healthcare was being delivered.
Christian health cost sharing programs were growing in response to opposition to Obamacare.
To save costs, healthcare providers were consolidating operations through mergers and acquisitions.
Some larger hospital systems saw money to be made in urgent care centers and they began to buy them up. Others, such as Kaiser Permanente, adopted a “small is beautiful” strategy and started opening specialized medical hubs.
Smoking and vaping
Marijuana had its share of the political spotlight in 2016.
On the November ballot, eight states carried initiatives that legalized either recreational marijuana or medical marijuana. A ninth state, Montana, considered whether to ease medical marijuana restrictions already on the books. Eight of the measures were approved.
The merits of marijuana use for medicinal purposes were debated throughout the year, leading up to those votes.
So were the perils of illegal drugs.
That reached a high point in July when 130 people were hospitalized in New York City after smoking K2, a synthetic marijuana.
In October, another street drug, heroin laced with an opioid used as a sedative for elephants, was blamed for a number of overdoses and deaths.
In November, those and other concerns had marijuana advocates wondering if the Trump administration would try to undo some of the laws that had been approved on election night.
Nonetheless, in December marijuana advocates for the third year in a row were able to point to a national survey that concluded that marijuana use among teens had declined. They said that proved that marijuana legalization did not increase use among minors.
That same survey also reported that e-cigarette use among teens dropped in 2016.
That news came out just a week after the U.S. Surgeon General released a blistering report, saying e-cigarettes were harmful to children’s health and might even encourage them to use other tobacco products.
The debate over whether e-cigarettes are unhealthy was argued throughout 2016.
In April, some British scientists concluded e-cigarettes weren’t that harmful and backed up those who recommend that smokers of regular cigarettes switch to the electronic product.
A few months later, U.S. researchers released a study that concluded many teens who would have never smoked were puffing on e-cigarettes.
That was coupled with news in October that federal officials were looking into explosions caused by the batteries used in e-cigarettes.
There was considerably less debate over the harmful effects of regular tobacco cigarettes. Everyone agreed they are bad for a person’s health.
The year began with an ad campaign from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) featuring five ex-smokers talking about the dangers of tobacco.
In June, researchers concluded it takes someone an average of 30 attempts to quit smoking before finally succeeding.
In October, CDC officials reported that people who live in apartments, townhouses, and condominiums are disproportionately affected by neighbors who smoke.
The following month, officials at the federal Housing and Urban Development (HUD) department announced smoke-free rules at public housing facilities to protect residents from secondhand smoke.
Opioids, overdoses, and antibiotics
Prescription drugs were also under the microscope in 2016.
Early in the year, emergency rooms reported they were facing shortages of important drugs. Those medications included epinephrine, commonly known as adrenaline.
A few weeks later, it was reported that prescription drug abuse was leading to heroin addictions. Officials said people who became addicted to prescribed opioids were switching to heroin because it was cheaper.
There were also reports in 2016 that teen athletes were getting hooked on painkillers prescribed for injuries.
Healthline also looked at the problem of people with chronic pain becoming addicted to prescription medications.
The prescription epidemic led the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to issue a “boxed” warning in late August about taking antidepressants and opioid-based medications together.
Federal authorities also cracked down on so-called “pill mill” doctors who were writing prescriptions for patients who agreed to pay them for doing so.
A strange side effect of the prescription addiction crisis evolved. It was reported that more organs became available for transplants this year because of the increasing number of younger people who were dying of opioid overdoses.
Concerns about another type of drug rippled through 2016, too.
The overuse of antibiotics in both people and animals has been creating drug-resistant bacteria for years.
The availability of auto-injectors for people with serious allergies was another drug-related concern.
Early this year, Sanofi ended its agreement to market the Auvi-Q injectors. The move came after concerns were raised that a small percentage of the products were dispensing improper doses of adrenaline.
The decision partly led to the large price increase in the injectors made by rival EpiPen. The hike caused such a stir that executives from parent company Mylan were called before a congressional committee.
Then, this fall, the manufacturer of Auvi-Q announced it would put their product back on the market in 2017. Healthline looked at the debate over whether customers would buy Auvi-Q injectors again.
Finally, the return of competition and the congressional hearings seem to have had an effect. In mid-December, Mylan officials unveiled a cheaper version of the EpiPen.
The debate over prescription drugs, antibiotics, and auto-injectors also sparked discussion of the FDA drug approval process.
Healthline took a close look at that issue earlier in the year.
Federal officials announced they were speeding up some drug trials to increase competition in the pharmaceutical industry and reduce the number of cases of price gouging.
In December, Congress approved, and President Obama signed, the 21st Century Cures Act. Besides providing millions of dollars for research and programs to battle the opioid addiction crisis, the act contained provisions to streamline the FDA drug approval process.
Critics said the quicker approval process would be a bonanza for pharmaceutical firms.
However, supporters said it would pave the way for new drugs to help fight well-known illnesses as well as those that cropped up during 2016.
From cancer to HIV to Zika
In January, it appeared the big disease news in the United States this year might be the dengue fever outbreak in Hawaii.
Little did we know.
A week after the dengue news, a warning was issued in the United States about the Zika virus that had plagued Brazil and other parts of South America in 2015.
The virus was spreading quickly through one species of mosquito. For most people, the virus produced only mild flu-like symptoms.
Healthline reported on the lifelong effects of microcephaly on both newborn infants as well as their parents.
The Zika virus spread quickly at first in Florida, but then migrated to other states. Still, the extent of the problems in the United States were minor compared to South America.
In cancer research, the year began with President Obama announcing a “moonshot” project for a cure for cancer with Vice President Joe Biden at the helm.
Immunology continued to be a trend, especially with the successful treatment of former President Jimmy Carter’s brain cancer.
Actor Ben Stiller brought a spotlight onto prostate cancer when he announced his successful treatment and encouraged other men to be tested for the disease. His recommendation was criticized by some who feel there are problems with diagnostic tests.
The death of journalist Gwen Ifill from endometrial cancer in November did produce calls for early diagnosis of that disease.
The progress in the battle against HIV was spotlighted on World AIDS Day. In particular, the need for HIV testing in all parts of the globe and the search for a vaccine were highlighted.
Vaccines in general continued to make news in 2016.
In February, CDC officials announced an accelerated push for preteens to get the HPV vaccine. They said the vaccinations were important because HPV rates had dropped dramatically since the vaccine was introduced.
That same month, health officials advised people to get boosters for whooping cough because it appeared the vaccine lost effectiveness after one year. They added that whooping cough rates have risen in recent years, mostly due to unvaccinated people.
The trend of people skipping vaccines, including inoculations for infants, prompted pediatricians to speak out on the importance of vaccines.
In a separate report, officials said unvaccinated people are costing the U.S. economy $7 billion a year.
Perfecting drugs, though, wasn’t the only goal scientists were striving for in 2016. They were also looking at medical advances as well as the origins of life.
Creations and breakthroughs
The health world was filled with news in 2016 about making babies.
In early February, scientists in the United Kingdom were given permission to experiment with gene editing on human embryos.
A couple of weeks later, Chinese scientists announced they had created sperm in a lab dish.
About the same time, an ethics report was released saying research on so-called “three parent babies” was ethically permissible.
In December, fertility regulators in the United Kingdom followed that up by giving approval to a treatment that makes it possible for babies to be made from two women and a man.
During the year, there were numerous stories about the trend of younger women freezing their eggs so they could work now and have children later.
Fertility wasn’t the only field to see medical advances.
The first uterus transplants were performed in 2016, with mixed results and ethical concerns.
There was also talk of a synthetic human genome and what it could be used for.
In the midst of these medical marvels, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, announced in September the creation of the $3 billion Chan Zuckerberg Initiative to help cure, prevent, and manage diseases.
And we can’t leave 2016 without mentioning a couple of the crazes that arose this year.
One was microneedling, the latest alternative in skin care.
Another was the video game “Pokemon Go” and the debate over whether it actually is exercise.
Now, it’s time to look to 2017 and perhaps some New Year’s resolutions.
A resolution to lose weight is always popular. If so, that will fall into the category of obesity — a major topic in 2016 that will certainly be part of the health news scene in 2017.