TIME global health

The 20 Best and Worst Health News Stories of 2014

Stethoscope
Getty Images

Wins, fails, and sensational headlines in medicine and public health

As far as sensational headlines go, the past 12 months provided no shortage of health-related material. Of course, 2014 had its share of doom-and-gloom stories about depression, domestic violence, untimely deaths, and disease outbreaks (at home and abroad), to name a few. But it also gave us reasons to celebrate: Promising new discoveries and legislation, inspiring role models and worthy causes, and healthy trends that are improving lives and changing the future. Here, in a nutshell, are the best and worst health stories of the year.

Best: Obamacare hits one-year milestone

Despite its rocky beginnings in 2013 (and the fact that many Americans still don’t understand it), the Affordable Care Act achieved several of its major goals in its first year, according to a study published in July by the Commonwealth Fund. The report found that the number of uninsured Americans dropped by 25% and that most people like their new plans and find it easier to find a doctor.

Separate studies this year also found that the ACA, also known as Obamacare, has helped young adults receive mental health treatment and could potentially lead to a decline in deaths.

Worst: Ebola outbreak in Africa (and freakout in America)

By far the biggest and most devastating health story this year has been the thousands of West Africans sickened and killed by the Ebola virus, which hit the areas of Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone particularly hard.

And although the virus can only be spread through contact with bodily fluids—and despite the fact that no American has yet contracted Ebola who has not spent time treating patients with the disease—that didn’t stop hysteria in the United States. Amid calls for a travel ban and anger directed toward doctors and nurses returning home from Africa, mental health experts stated in October that anxiety about Ebola was now a bigger threat than the virus itself.

Best: Medical devices lose some of their stigma

Women who enter beauty pageants and pose for Internet selfies are often seen as vain and materialistic, but in 2014 two women fought to dispel those notions, while at the same time showcased health conditions that aren’t often seen as beautiful.

In July, Miss Idaho contestant (and eventual winner) Sierra Sandison wore an insulin pump she uses to treat her Type 1 diabetes clipped to her swimsuit during a competition. One month earlier, UK resident and Crohn’s disease sufferer Brittany Townsend had shared her own bikini photo on Facebook, complete with the colostomy bags she needs to remove waste from her body. Both photos went viral, sending messages that women like Sandison and Townsend don’t have to be ashamed.

Worst: Measles outbreak fueled by anti-vaccinators

The CDC reported in May that measles cases in the United States were at a 20-year high so far this year, largely due to unvaccinated people who contracted disease while traveling abroad and then returned home and spread it among unvaccinated members of their communities.

The number of parents who choose not to vaccinate their children in the United States is growing, despite a scientific consensus that childhood vaccines are safe and don’t cause serious health problems like autism or leukemia. Unvaccinated children have also contributed to recent outbreaks of whooping cough and mumps.

HEALTH.COM: 12 Strange-But-True Health Tips

Best: CVS stops selling cigarettes; FDA limits e-cigs

Customers can no longer pick up cigarettes along with their prescriptions at CVS pharmacies, thanks to a ban in all stores implemented in September—four weeks earlier than the date the chain had originally announced. Carnival Cruise lines also jumped on the bandwagon this year, banning smoking on its stateroom balconies in October.

E-cigarettes have seen plenty of regulations this year as well. In April, the FDA proposed regulations to ban the sale of electronic cigarettes to minors and to include health warnings on their packages, and in August, the World Health Organization recommended that countries regulate electronic cigarettes and ban their indoor use.

Worst: Enterovirus outbreak hits children nationwide

At last count, a severe respiratory illness called Enterovirus D68 has been reported in 43 states and the District of Columbia. More than 500 cases have been confirmed across the United States, mostly children, with four suspected deaths (and one confirmed).

ED68 has been described as a polio-like illness that can cause paralysis. Most infected children recover without serious illness, but those with lung conditions like asthma are at increased risk for severe symptoms.

Best: Orthorexia gets mainstream coverage

Being a diligently healthy eater may seem like a good problem to have, but a prominent blogger showed fans this year what can happen when it’s taken to an unhealthy extreme. Jordan Younger, also known as The Blonde Vegan, announced to her readers in June that she was moving away from her strict vegan lifestyle because she’d developed an eating disorder called orthorexia—an obsession with healthy foods that leads to more and more restrictions and, potentially, malnourishment.

Worst: Domestic violence rears its ugly head

The topic of domestic violence made national headlines this year when then-NFL player Ray Rice punched his then-fiancee (now wife) in an elevator; investigations since then have uncovered many more instances of spousal or partner abuse among professional football players, and cover-ups among their teams.

But a survey released in September revealed that one in five American men admits to using violence against his spouse or partner, and that domestic abuse affects people of all professions, races, and classes. A study in April also found that domestic violence can cause fear and anxiety for children who witness it, hear it, or see the resulting injuries.

HEALTH.COM: 14 Reasons You’re Always Tired

Best: Science gets wise to the dangers of sugar, white bread

Doctors and nutritionists have known for decades that added sugar is linked to diabetes and heart disease, but a study published in February really hammered home just how dangerous it can be: The average American diet contains enough added sugar to increase the risk of heart-related death by nearly 20%, reported researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The health risks of white bread were exposed this year, as well: People who eat two or more servings of the refined stuff a day are more likely to become overweight or obese than those who eat less or who favor whole-grain bread, according to a Spanish study presented in May.

Worst: ‘Biggest Loser’ winner reveals shocking weight loss

When The Biggest Loser contestant Rachel Frederickson surprised viewers with her 155-pound weight loss during the show’s Season 15 finale, not everyone was pleased. Viewers expressed alarm on social media about Frederickson being too skinny, and even the show’s trainers Bob Harper and Jillian Michaels were visibly shocked at her transformation.

Frederickson has since gained back 20 pounds and found her ’perfect weight,’ but the incident seems to have had at least one permanent impact: In April, People reported that Michaels wanted to distance herself from the show because of concern for the participants’ health and wellbeing, and in June, NBC announced that Michaels would not be returning. The celebrity trainer later revealed that the show’s producers weren’t willing to make certain changes she’d requested to the show’s format.

Best: Food labels are changing for the better

The “nutrition facts” box on food packages should soon become easier to understand, thanks to a makeover first proposed by the Food and Drug Administration in February. Under the new guidelines, serving sizes will be more straightforward, calorie counts highlighted more prominently, and “daily values” for nutrients will be revised.

Some food companies have spoken out against part of the proposal that would require “added sugars” to be included on nutrition labels, but a Change.org petition submitted by the American Heart Association in November showed that public support for the measure is still strong.

It’s not yet clear if or when these measures will be put into place, but one major food-label change did happen in 2014: Beginning in August, foods can only be labeled gluten-free if they truly are free of gluten—a major win for anyone with celiac disease or gluten intolerance.

Worst: Smartphones and social media are making us sick

We can’t live without it—but more and more research is suggesting that if we’re not careful, personal technology can really mess with our health. Facebook makes us jealous of our friends and self-conscious of our bodies, texting gives us bad posture, and just having a smartphone in the same room can affect our parenting skills.

No one’s quite figured out the solution to these problems yet, but people are certainly trying; there’s no shortage of writers going on ‘digital detoxes’ and reporting back what they’ve learned. Meanwhile, a new technology-related health risk surfaced this year, as well: A paper published in October describes a man who became addicted to Google Glass.

HEALTH.COM: 11 Reasons Why You’re Not Losing Belly Fat

Best: Ice Bucket Challenge raises millions for ALS

You probably got tired of seeing the videos in your Facebook feed, but the truth is they worked: Since the Ice Bucket Challenge exploded onto the social-media scene in July, ALS nonprofits and research organizations have received more than $100 million in donations.

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, is a fatal neurodegenerative disease with no cure, but ALS researchers are hoping to change that. Nancy Frates, whose son Pete dreamed up the Ice Bucket Challenge after his own ALS diagnosis in 2012, recently shared in a TED Talk how clinical trials have been fast-tracked thanks to funding from the Challenge.

Worst: Robin Williams commits suicide after Parkinson’s diagnosis

America lost one of its most beloved actors in August when Robin Williams took his own life after years of struggling with depression. After his death, Williams’ wife revealed he had also recently been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, and an autopsy revealed his brain showed signs of Lewy Body Disease, a form of dementia that can cause hallucinations and concentration problems.

Although it’s not confirmed that these conditions played a role in Williams’ suicide, his death has shed light on several disorders that are often linked and frequently misdiagnosed or understood.

Best: Ninja warrior, curvy ballerina become unlikely fitness stars

When it comes to athlete role models, girls now have more than just soccer players and ice skaters to look up to. In July, Kacy Catanzaro became the first female contestant to reach the finals of NBC’s fitness competition American Ninja Warrior. Catanzaro made the challenging course look easy, and her victory sparked a #MightyKacy Twitter hashtag that trended worldwide.

Then in August, UnderArmour introduced us to its newest spokesperson, American Ballet Theater soloist Misty Copeland. The brand’s first commercial starring the dancer—about how she triumphed over negativity after being told she lacked the right body and was too old to become a ballerina—has more than 6 million views on YouTube, and has been called stunning, mesmerizing, and jaw-dropping.

Worst: Joan Rivers’ death raises questions about surgery safety

Comedian Joan Rivers was known for her irreverent humor, her biting fashion critiques, and perhaps most famously, her self-proclaimed obsession with plastic surgery. She went under the knife frequently, always pushing the boundaries of what it meant to age healthfully and happily.

But when the 81-year-old stopped breathing during what should have been a routine throat procedure in September (her family eventually took her off life support), her death sparked a new controversy: whether her doctors were to blame—especially after it was suggested that her surgeon took a selfie with an unconscious Rivers before the operation. In November, TMZ reported that staff members did not weigh Rivers before sedating her, potentially giving her too much medication.

HEALTH.COM: 14 Foods that Make You Look Older

Best: ‘Angelina effect’ increases rates of genetic testing

Actress Angelina Jolie made headlines in 2013 when she had a preventative double mastectomy after testing positive for the BRCA1 gene. But the effects of her decision had wide implications in the months that followed. In September, Canadian cancer researchers revealed that the number of women seeking genetic counseling and testing at their center rose dramatically after Jolie’s announcement.

Although cancer doctors caution that not every woman should be tested, most agree that extra education and awareness is certainly a good thing. Luckily, the increase in genetic testing is coming from women who actually do have a higher risk for breast cancer, and who will get the most benefit from what they might learn.

Worst: Antibiotics still being overprescribed

Despite warnings to physicians about the overuse of antibiotics, the drugs are still being prescribed when they’re not needed. Pediatricians, for example, dole out antibiotics twice as often as needed for throat and ear infections, found a study published in September. Researchers also discovered this year that doctors are more likely to prescribe unnecessary antibiotics later in the afternoon, as their decision-making skills wear down throughout the day.

Regardless of when it’s happening, the consequences could be deadly: Misuse of antibiotics fuels the growth of drug-resistant bacteria, reported the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in March, as it outlined new recommendations to keep the drugs from being overused in hospitals.

HEALTH.COM: 13 Healthy Reasons to Have More Sex

Best: Air quality is improving in U.S. cities

The Environmental Protection Agency shared some good news in August: The air in American cities has become significantly cleaner since 1990, with major reductions in levels of mercury, benzene, and lead. About 3 million tons per year of pollutants have also been reduced from cars and trucks, as well.

More good news for your lungs: in November, the United States announced a climate change agreement with China that aims to cut both countries’ greenhouse gas emissions by nearly a third over the next 20 years. In announcing the deal, President Obama said he hopes other nations will be inspired to make positive environmental changes, as well.

Worst: Internet flips out over Renee Zellweger’s face

As far as celebrity scandals go, Renee Zellweger’s appearance on the red carpet in October shouldn’t be anywhere near the top of this year’s list, but you’d never know it judging by the reactions she received on Twitter and in the media.

The 45-year-old actress attended an awards ceremony meant to honor the work of talented women in Hollywood, but all anyone could talk about was how different her face looked and whether she’d had plastic surgery or just, well, gotten old. Zellweger spoke out the following week, telling People that she’s glad people noticed her new look, adding, “I am healthy. For a long time I wasn’t doing such a good job with that.”

HEALTH.COM: 5 Fat-Burning Body Weight Exercises

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

TIME Family

Tips on How to Talk to Your Kids About Ferguson

A Ferguson firefighter surveys rubble at a strip mall that was set on fire when rioting erupted following the grand jury announcement in the Michael Brown case on Nov. 25, 2014 in Ferguson, Mo. Scott Olson—Getty Images

Experts suggest that it's important to get the conversation going

We’d all love for our kids to be able to get along with all kinds of people. And school curricula are full of chatter about how to celebrate our diversity.

But the fact is, people from different backgrounds don’t always see eye to eye. And sometimes those tensions can raise deep questions for kids, like the nationwide protests that have erupted over the events in Ferguson, Missouri. These stories may be especially disturbing for kids when they involve children near their age, like Michael Brown or Trayvon Martin.

Race is such a tough topic that it can be tempting to avoid, especially for white families, who are three times less likely to discuss race than families of color, according to a recent study by the Journal of Marriage and Family. But race is an important subject for every family to address. Research suggests that kids who talk openly about race in their families are less prejudiced and that kids who make friends from different backgrounds have better social skills.

So how can we talk with our kids, not just about diversity, but about the tensions our differences can create?

Elementary School: Young children may be frightened by the images they see on the news, Cynthia Rogers, an instructor in child psychology at Washington University in St. Louis has observed. It’s important to let them share these feelings, and also to assure them that they are safe. But even at a very young age, studies have shown, kids already notice the differences between themselves and others. So, experts like Rodolfo Mendoza-Denton, professor of psychology at Berkley, recommend that parents talk about difference. The central message to communicate: it’s okay to be different. In fact, our differences are something to explore and celebrate.

Middle School: Just as with anything else, kids learn best about race by actual experience, not lectures. As kids form friendships in middle school, encourage them to connect with kids from different backgrounds. Don’t be afraid to talk about those differences with your kids. And be open to the fact that your family isn’t “normal” to everyone else. In fact, when we connect with families from different backgrounds, we may learn just as much about how different we seem to them.

High School: At this age, students will be aware of big events like Ferguson, and have their own opinions, Marcia Chatelain, a Georgetown University professor with a focus on African-American history has noted. So parents can encourage high school students to share those thoughts and feelings. And also encourage them to learn about the history of race and civil rights, so that their understanding can grow as they absorb new perspectives.

The bottom line on talking about race with kids: just talk. We don’t have to have all the right answers for our kids to grow up with less prejudice. We just have to start the conversation. And if you want to go a bit deeper on how to use the events in Ferguson as a springboard for more discussion, a bunch of academics have put together some reading lists on Twitter under the hashtag #fergusoncurriculum

This post originally appeared in the T/Parents newsletter. Sign up to get it in your inbox every week.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: November 19

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. Teach data literacy in elementary school.

By Mohana Ravindranath in the Washington Post

2. A new app lets kids explore the life and living conditions of other children around the world.

By Laura Bliss in CityLab

3. Politics inside Yemen — once a reliable U.S. ally and success story in the war on terror — has pushed the nation out of our influence.

By Adam Baron in Defense One

4. When it comes to science and health news, radio might save journalism.

By Anna Clark in Columbia Journalism Review

5. Rooftop solar power could beat the price of coal in two years — if utilities don’t shut it down.

By Lucas Mearian in ComputerWorld

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: November 13

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. As separatists and Russian troops chip away at its sovereignty, Ukraine struggles with corruption while hunting heat for the coming winter.

By Leonid Bershidsky in Bloomberg View

2. Leading by example: One Silicon Valley superstar has put tech’s pernicious racism in his crosshairs.

By J.J. McCorvey in Fast Company

3. The most important element of the U.S.-China climate deal might be that China has stepped away from its go-it-alone approach on climate.

By Michael Levi at the Council on Foreign Relations

4. Is the next frontier of mesh networks — like the one that linked protestors in Hong Kong — serving news?

By Susan E. McGregor at NiemanLab

5. Lessons from the Bulungula Incubator: Zeroing in on poverty at the most basic level can catalyze community change — and transforms lives.

By Réjane Woodroffe in the Aspen Idea

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME viral

This Local News Reporter Dancing to T.I. Is Everything

"Where They At Doe" is unstoppable.

Local news is a treasure trove of incredible moments. Like this or this or this or this video of West Virginia news anchor Dan Thorn busting a move to T.I. at the news desk.

WVNS 59 News was on a commercial break, but the cameras were still rolling when the reporter started getting down to T.I.’s “Where They At Doe,” proving you don’t have to be in the club to drop it low.

While this video would seem to prove the theory that when T.I. plays, you dance, Thorn’s co-anchor Sarah Pisciuneri was clearly not impressed with his iPad-wielding dance moves. Her disinterest was explained when she tragically announced that she just can’t dance on camera. Seems like she could pick up a few pointers from Thorn on that front.

As for Thorn, now that he’s practiced dancing alone to T.I., we’ll look for his appearance on dancing alone to Pony.

H/T Tastefully Offensive

TIME Bizarre

Man Finds Out Wife Is Pregnant After Using Her Urine for His Drug Test

103586955
Pregnancy Test Positive Getty Images

Surprise!

An Egyptian bus driver found out that his wife was two months pregnant, after submitting her urine in place of his own for a mandatory drug test, the BBC reports. After he assured officials that the sample was his own, he was reportedly told, “Congratulations, you’re pregnant.”

While more details were sparse, the BBC reported that some officials didn’t see this incident merely as a lighthearted prank, given that drug use is on the rise.

[BBC]

TIME Media

Conservatives Cluster Around Fox News, While Liberals Vary News Sources

And liberals make fickle friends

Pew Research Center

The most ideologically extreme Americans, both liberals and conservatives, have this much in common: they dominate our politics and drive our political discourse with far more influence than people with more mixed views.

But when it comes to where they get their information the two groups could hardly be further apart, according to a survey out Tuesday from the Pew Research Center’s Journalism project.

The survey results reflect a longterm trend of balkanization in American media, as the Internet and cable television, by giving people a wider array of choices, opened the way for news outlets increasingly tailored to particular ideological positions.

Nearly half of “consistent conservatives” go to Fox News as their main source of news about politics and government. Though the same group distrusts 24 of the 36 news sources measured in the survey, 88% of them trust Fox News. They’re more likely to have friends with the same political views and more likely than any other ideological group to hear views in line with their own expressed on Facebook.

Compare that with “consistent liberals,” who depend on a wider variety of news sources—chiefly CNN, MSNBC, NPR and The New York Times—and who tend to trust news outlets much more so than conservatives. Perhaps because they’re more likely to see political views that diverge from their own on Facebook, consistent liberals are more likely than anyone else to de-friend someone on a social network, or even end a good old fashioned brick-and-mortar friendship, over a political disagreement.

If you yearn for a less contentious, ideologue-driven version of American politics it’s not all bad news.

Pew Research Center

A strong majority of people who pay attention to political posts on Facebook (98%) say that at least some of the time they see posts with views that differ from their own. And among web users Facebook is far and away the biggest social media site and among one of the top sources of political news.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: October 10

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. With U.S. support, El Salvador is using community policing to address skyrocketing gang crime.

By Jude Joffe-Block in Fronteras

2. A new tool designed to flag bogus stories online might help combat rampant misinformation.

By Alexis Sobel Fitts in the Columbia Journalism Review

3. A multimillion dollar new high rise in Los Angeles exclusively for the city’s sick and vulnerable homeless residents reflects a powerful truth: we can’t ignore poverty away.

By Gale Holland in the Los Angeles Times

4. The CDC is using mobile phone data to track and stop Ebola in West Africa.

By Aliya Sternstein in NextGov

5. “Education is the most important right. When we get education, then we can bring change in our society.”

By Malala Yousafzai addressing the Aspen Ideas Festival

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME viral

September’s Best News Bloopers Include a Guy Immediately Dropping His Brand New iPhone 6

Your monthly dose of schadenfreude

September was a big month for news — much of it serious and sinister. But of course, there were plenty of lighter, sillier moments too, mostly in the form of on-air mishaps and blunders.

Each month, the YouTube channel NewsBeFunny rounds up the funniest, strangest and most cringe-worthy bloopers so we can all enjoy a nice heart dose of schadenfreude. September’s highlights include one of the first people to get an iPhone 6 immediately dropping it on the ground, a reporter quitting on air after outing herself as the owner of a medical marijuana club, and a bat flying around a TV studio.

MORE: The Best News Bloopers of August

MORE: The Best News Bloopers of July

 

TIME Race

Survey: Blacks and Hispanics Say News Doesn’t Reflect Their Communities

200398313-007
Jose Luis Pelaez—Getty Images

1,492 U.S. adults were polled about the media over the phone

Black and Hispanic Americans say the media does not accurately cover their communities, according to a study released Tuesday.

The survey of 1,492 U.S. adults was conducted over the phone by the Media Insight Project, a joint initiative of the American Press Institute and the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

Media Insight Project found that 33% of Hispanics and 25% of African-Americans believe the media portrays their community accurately. Only 19% of the African-Americans polled said that the most accurate coverage of their community comes from general local news, and only 18% from African-American specific news sources. Of Hispanic Americans, 49% said they felt that the most accurate news comes from Hispanic specific sources.

The full survey results can be found here.

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser