With 2010 coming to a close, I’m taking stock of the year in health and science — specifically, the most important studies and news stories affecting pregnancy, kids, and family. Some of my top 10 stories are the ones that made the headlines and sparked debate, and others are lesser-known but, to my mind, just as significant.
So here they are, the Top 10 Health and Science Stories of 2010:
1. Healthcare reform: This year we slogged through a battle over the nation’s broken health care system. It’s a work in progress, no doubt, but in the coming years we’ll see changes that could affect things like maternity coverage and children’s health benefits. Unfortunately, we may see decreased access to abortion as a result of the midterm elections.
2. Autism genes uncovered, vaccine link put to rest: We sure love to think we’ve got autism figured out. But research published this year helped us see the reality of just how genetically complex the autism spectrum is (in fact, it’s not one disorder, or even one disorder on a spectrum of severity — it’s multiple disorders under one diagnostic umbrella). Meanwhile, we got more proof that there is no connection between vaccines and autism.
3. The return of the whooping cough: Last year, the infection worry was swine flu, but this year it was pertussis. There were over 6,000 cases of whooping cough, and 10 infants in California died from it this year. The epidemic was the biggest to hit California since 1959.
4. Maybe we’re not vitamin D deficient after all: Last year we were so sure that everyone was chronically vitamin D deprived. But late this year, a meta-analysis showed we may have been unnecessarily worried. This is surely not the end of the vitamin D story.
5. Girls hitting puberty earlier: An unsettling trend made headlines this year, with evidence that more 7-year-old girls were showing signs of puberty. Causes suggested include environmental elements that affect hormone regulation and working moms (yes, a study actually drew this connection). But if puberty is really happening earlier, obesity is probably the culprit.
6. The invasion of the bedbugs: The tiny insects exploded in numbers this year, especially in New York and other major cities. The bedbug population has increased by 500 percent in recent years, and according to The New York Times, New York City “officials recorded 33,772 bug-related inquiries to its 311 help line last year, a 54 percent increase from 2008.” At Strollerderby, we lined up 5 tips to keep bedbugs at bay.
7. Breastfeeding rates still too low: In September 2010, the CDC released its Breastfeeding Report Card, and the results were not good. Even though the W.H.O. and most health organizations recommend exclusive breastfeeding for six months and continued nursing throughout the first year, only 13 percent of U.S. moms do so. The numbers vary greatly by state — here’s a more in-depth analysis of breastfeeding in the U.S.
8. Obesity climbs, starting in the womb: Childhood obesity has tripled in the last 30 years, and this past year saw no improvement. But there was growing evidence that, through changes in brain chemistry and metabolism, the trend toward being overweight probably begins in the womb. A mother’s weight has been consistently shown to affect baby’s BMI, genetics aside.
9. Pioneer of in-vitro fertilization wins the Nobel prize: This year, Robert Edwards, the 85-year-old British scientist who pioneered the IVF technique, won the Nobel prize for physiology or medicine. Since Edwards’ breakthrough, four million women have had babies through IVF.
10. Scientists uncover what triggers labor and contractions: As I’ve reported here and in my science column, the U.S. has one of the highest rates of preterm births in the developed world (also related is our high infant mortality rate). Scheduled early inductions are partly to blame, but so is preterm labor. This fall, scientists uncovered the exact molecular trigger that starts labor, which is big news for future moms who want to carry their babies to full term.
What else stands out to you as the year’s top health and science news? Please share!