Top 10 Health Stories of 2011

From a new guide on healthy eating to the tasty melon that caused multiple deaths, these health stories made headlines this year.

By: Melissa Romero

This innocent-looking melon was responsible for the death of 30 people this year. Photograph courtesy of Flickr user News21-usa

This year has been a big one in health headlines. From the deadliest outbreak of food-borne illness in US history to the untimely death of a worldwide pop icon, here are the top ten health headlines of 2011. 


1) Contaminated Cantaloupes

This tainted melon was the unlikely cause of the deadliest food-borne outbreak in the US after it infected 146 people and caused 30 deaths, including one miscarriage. After 28 states reported illnesses starting in September, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) traced the source of the listeria outbreak to a farm in Colorado.


2) Michael Jackson’s Propofol Overdose

The trial of Conrad Murray, Michael Jackson’s doctor, not only sucked in a worldwide audience, but it also shed light on Propofol, the drug that ended the King of Pop’s life. Disturbing audio recordings of Jackson’s nonsensical slurred words showed the dangers of the risky sedative. Murray was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter, and was sentenced to a maximum of four years in state prison.

3) Prostate Cancer Screenings Not Recommended

To get screened or not to get screened? That was the question of the year for many men after the US Preventive Services Task Force announced that prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood tests to check for the cancer were doing more harm than good for already healthy men. Officials said PSAs often lead to unnecessary pain and even impotence. The recommendation means doctors should not offer the option to healthy men unless they ask about it.


4) Michele Bachmann’s HPV Statement Shut Down

Presidential candidate Michele Bachmann ruffled some feathers among medical professionals after saying during a debate that a Florida woman “told me that her little daughter took the vaccine [. . .] and she suffered from mental retardation.” The American Academy of Pediatrics swiftly issued a statement that refuted Bachmann’s statements about the HPV vaccine: “There is absolutely no scientific validity to this statement,” the academy said. “[The vaccine] has an excellent safety record.”


5) Chimpanzee Victim’s New Face Revealed

Believe it or not, there were multiple face transplant reveals this year, but one of the most memorable was Charla Nash’s in August. It’s hard to forget Nash’s story of a neighbor’s pet chimpanzee mauling her hands, nose, lips, and eyelids in 2009. Almost three years later, Nash has a new face that is slowly growing to be more reminiscent of her previous appearance.


6) MyPlate: “Bye-bye, dessert.”

In June, First Lady Michelle Obama unveiled MyPlate, the new guide to healthy eating that replaced the food pyramid, which USDA officials said was too complex. On MyPlate, veggies and fruits make up half of the plate, as do grains and proteins. Desserts were kept off this time around. The new design was praised by nutritionists, even though a recent study found that Americans only meet the new guidelines for one week of the year.


7) World Welcomes the Seven Billionth Person(s)

On October 31, the United Nations symbolically named various babies as the world’s seven billionth person, including Danica May Camacho of the Philippines. But with the many celebrations came concerns of whether the world has enough resources to accommodate its rapidly growing population.


8) Pizza Sauce Is (Not) a Vegetable

Our Twitter feed ran amok with talk of pizza in November after Congress passed a bill that made it easier to count pizza sauce as a serving of vegetables. Headlines declaring “Pizza is a vegetable” were everywhere, but as Sarah Kliff reported in the Washington Post, Congress didn’t exactly say that in the bill. Instead, it was decided that one-eighth of a cup of tomato paste would continue to count as one serving of vegetables, making it easier for pizza companies to claim their products included a full serving of veggies.


9) Supreme Court to Decide Health Care’s Future

This year, the Supreme Court announced it would take on what is expected to be one of the biggest cases of next year: the health-care reform law. Just two weeks ago, the court said it would hear almost six hours of arguments from March 26 to 28. The ruling scheduled for June will no doubt be a major player in the presidential election.


10) Obama: "I support the Plan B Decision"

Health and human services secretary Kathleen Sebelius shocked women’s health advocates when she blocked the FDA’s decision to make the contraceptive Plan B available over the counter for girls under 17. In a statement, President Obama cited his own children in his support of Sebelius’s decision: “As a father of two daughters, I think it is important for us to make sure that we apply some common sense to various rules when it comes to over-the-counter medicine. [. . .] I think most parents would probably feel the same way.”