Top 10 Health News Stories of 2008

Salmonella, Vaccines, Belly Fat Were Hot Topics in 2008

Medically Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on December 11, 2008
From the WebMD Archives

Dec. 16, 2008 -- Promising to change the U.S. health care system, Barack Obama changed history in 2008. That wasn't the only change:

  • Our faith in the nation's food-safety system was shaken when, month after month, an outbreak of foodborne illness seemed never to end.
  • Popular newsman Tim Russert died unexpectedly of heart disease, making us all think twice about our own heart health.
  • A series of studies raised questions about the safety of bisphenol A, a chemical used in many common plastics -- including baby bottles.
  • Just as we seemed to be turning a corner in the AIDS epidemic, the CDC learned that far more Americans carry the AIDS virus than we'd thought. 

These topics – along with others such as the benefits of vitamin D, the risks of belly fat, and the ongoing controversy about vaccines and autism – are among the top 10 health news stories of 2008, as chosen by the editors at WebMD.

1. Salmonella-Tainted Tomatoes Smash Confidence in U.S. Food Safety

The Salmonella saintpaul outbreak, linked first to tomatoes and then to raw jalapeno and serrano peppers, was the nation's largest food-borne outbreak of any kind in the past decade. It sickened more than 1,400 people, wreaking havoc on tomato farmers, shaking up grocery lists nationwide, and putting the FDA and CDC in the hot seat as the investigation dragged on for months. Here's a look back at the 2008 salmonella scare.

2. The Promise of Health Care Reform

Health care reform was one of the most important issues in the 2008 election, and its importance grew as the tanking economy left more people without jobs -- and the health insurance that came with them. As President-elect Obama and the new Congress prepare to tackle the issue next year, here's a look back at some of WebMD's intensive coverage of the issue -- including a WebMD blog entry from then-candidate Obama.

3. Vitamins With a Capital "D"

The hottest vitamin of 2008 was vitamin D. People with vitamin D deficiency are prey to all kinds of ailments, from depression to cancer. But accumulating evidence suggests that even the currently recommended dose of vitamin D may not be enough. Here are links to WebMD's evolving coverage of the vitamin D story.

4. Tim Russert's Heart -- and Ours

The unexpected death of ABC newsman Tim Russert saddened millions and was a wake-up call for many people about heart disease, the No. 1 killer of U.S. men and women. The year also brought new CPR guidelines and new insights about finding clogged arteries.  

5. Bisphenol A in Baby Bottles

Bisphenol A, a chemical found in polycarbonate plastic used to make some baby and water bottles, hit the big-time in 2008, with controversy about its health effects hotly debated by two government agencies, academics, and industry. The debate is still going, with the FDA's final word expected by February 2009. Meanwhile, some consumers and major companies, including Wal-Mart and Toys "R" Us, are already backing away from baby bottles with BPA.  

6. Can Vaccines Cause Autism?

Medical experts say it can't happen. But a number of parents -- most notably celebrity Jenny McCarthy -- say vaccines triggered their children's autism. Adding fuel to the fire, the Department of Health and Human Services said Hannah Poling, a girl with a mitochondrial disorder, was allowed compensation from a vaccine injury compensation fund because the vaccine preservative thimerosal could theoretically have triggered her autistic symptoms. Is there a link between vaccines and autism? Throughout the year, WebMD readers kept up to date with the issue.

7. Cholesterol Drugs: New Questions

A medical mystery emerged at the beginning of 2008: Why did a drug that lowers cholesterol fail to reduce plaque in the arteries?

The FDA has approved drugs based on their ability to lower cholesterol -- but only because this is supposed to cut the risk of clogged arteries and heart disease. But Vytorin, a combination of the cholesterol-lowering statin drug Zocor and the cholesterol-blocking drug Zetia, didn't seem to work better than Zocor alone.

As the year went on, cholesterol-lowering drugs called statins (such as Zocor) looked better and better. Researchers dispelled fears they might raise cancer risk. And they found that statins cut the risk of heart disease in half for people with normal cholesterol levels but high levels of C-reactive protein in the blood.

Here's how WebMD covered these stories:

8. Belly Fat Makes Big Bad News

Belly fat was big news in 2008 as study after study linked it to serious health problems -- and even an increased death risk -- even in people who aren't overweight. But simple changes in lifestyle and diet could trim this health risk.

9. Economic Woes Hurting Health

You're probably all too aware of your waning wallet, as gas and food prices soared and the stock market plunged in 2008. And the fallout may be taking a toll on your health, making the economic crisis one of the top health stories of the year.

10. HIV/AIDS Worse Than We'd Known

The stunning news came from the CDC: America's HIV/AIDS problem is much worse than we'd thought. That -- together with increased HIV testing and improved treatment -- meant more Americans are living with HIV than ever before. Yet with early detection and treatment, people with HIV are living much longer than ever before. And while there's still no cure for HIV, it's not because scientists aren't trying to find one. In 2008, they found several key pieces to the HIV puzzle.


Miranda Hitti contributed to this report.