Zika virus, skyrocketing EpiPen prices and mass opioid overdoses. Doctors celebrated the birth of the world’s first three-parent baby while the United Nations named 2016 the Year of Pulses and scientists zeroed in on casual drinking, fitness trackers and metabolism in controversial studies.
Health news in 2016 was a varied mix of public health emergencies, hot-button issues and shedding light on healthier eating.
Global News takes a look at 10 of the biggest health and nutrition stories of the year.
The Zika virus epidemic on a global stage: For the entire calendar year, global health officials monitored the mosquito-borne virus that’s tied to serious birth defects in developing babies.
Zika virus has touched virtually every part of the Americas, except for Chile and Canada because these nations don’t carry the Aedes Egypti mosquitoes that spread the disease.
Dozens of Olympic athletes cancelled their visits to the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro. At the height of the epidemic, Brazil was the outbreak epicentre.
By September, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization (WHO) are telling couples to hold off on unprotected sex for six months after visiting a Zika-affected region, even without showing symptoms.
Zika has been linked to a 20-fold increase in a rare defect called microcephaly in babies, in which newborns are born with irregularly small heads and underdeveloped brains.
Skyrocketing EpiPen prices spark outrage: They’re injected as emergency medicine for severe allergies to food and bug bites, but this summer, the price of the EpiPen soared to more than $600 for two syringes in the U.S. That’s a 400 per cent hike, according to some U.S. reports.
Mylan N.V. — the makers of the EpiPen — responded to public outrage by doling out “savings cards” to cover up to $300 for the injectors.
Mylan has a virtual monopoly on epinephrine injectors. In Canada, Pfizer has rights to sell the Epipen through a Mylan license. The price hasn’t changed north of the border, though.
2016 as Year of the Pulses: The UN focused its efforts on encouraging people to eat beans, lentils, peas and chickpeas this year and for good reason — plenty of studies pointed to the merits of these plant-based protein sources.
They’re inexpensive, versatile to cook with and they keep you feeling full, which helps with weight management. They can also lower bad cholesterol and decrease the risks of heart disease, diabetes, and even cancer, according to the UN.
In April, one Canadian study suggested that a daily helping of these foods — just three-quarters of a cup — could help with weight management and staving off chronic disease.
Controversial “Biggest Loser” study sheds light on metabolism: They exercised for hours a day and then subsisted on small meals — the reality TV show The Biggest Loser is ubiquitous in North American pop culture.
But a new study unveiled the “frightening” reason why contests couldn’t sustain the dramatic weight loss they saw on the show. When dieters lost weight, their metabolisms decreased too, but once the weight crept back up their metabolisms didn’t speed up with the numbers on the scale.
“Many of them regained a substantial amount of weight but their metabolism stayed so low,” Dr. Kevin Hall told Global News in May.
WATCH: A new study has found that many competitors on The Biggest Loser leave the show with a slower metabolism, making it more difficult to keep off the pounds.
Food recalls shake up the food security system: Fruit smoothies caused a hepatitis A outbreak in the U.S., while recalls of bagged lettuce, hummus and other kitchen staples became commonplace.
Research out in November helped to explain why: just a small amount of damage to salad leaves, such as getting cut is enough to stimulate bacteria to grow and multiply, especially when they’re stored in bags.
The British microbiologists behind the research suggest that juices released from the salad leaves help salmonella, making it even more virulent and likely to cause infection.
That same month, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said that contaminated sprouts caused serious food poisoning outbreaks over the past two decades.
WATCH: Raw oysters, steak tartare and runny eggs — those are just some of the foods Dr. Rick Holley, a veteran food safety expert, won’t touch.
Pay attention to your casual drinking habits: Canada’s chief public health officer zeroed in on alcohol consumption and casual drinking in his annual report in February. Dr. Gregory Taylor said that there’s a plethora of research about the alleged health benefits of drinking alcohol and that’s misleading Canadians.
There are risks tied to alcohol when it comes to the onset of cancer or liver disease, he warned. Canadians need to stop thinking of alcohol as a food or beverage and more of a “mind-altering drug,” he warned.
By July, a New Zealand scientist said she found “strong evidence that alcohol causes cancer at seven sites in the body and probably others” in an incredibly controversial commentary.
The world’s first three-parent baby makes his debut: In September, scientists revealed they helped to deliver the first baby born from a technique that combines DNA from three people.
The goal was to prevent the child from inheriting a fatal genetic disease from his mother, who had four pregnancy losses and two babies who had passed away before their first birthdays.
The baby was born in April to Jordanian parents who travelled to Mexico to meet with an American fertility specialist they consulted with.
The U.K. is the only country to approve three-parent babies so far. The technique involves removing some of the mother’s DNA from an egg and leaving the disease-causing DNA behind.
Athletes bring cupping therapy to the Summer Olympics: While Michael Phelps broke world records on his gold medal-collecting spree, spectators were too busy looking at the series of circular bruises covering his back.
Through star athletes, the traditional Chinese medicinal therapy called cupping made waves around the world.
The therapy involves applying round suction cups to a patient’s skin, pulling the skin away from underlying muscles. This allows blood vessels to expand and blood to flow freely to the targeted area, Global News’ Nicole Bogart explained in August.
WATCH: After many people noticed gold medal winner Michael Phelps had strange red spots on his back, the questions began. It’s a muscle therapy called cupping and some Saskatonians say it really does help. Meaghan Craig reports.
Scientists question the legitimacy of fitness trackers: We wear them to count our steps, the number of calories we burn and to monitor heart rate, but scientists scrutinizing fitness trackers weren’t too impressed with the products this year.
One study in September went so far as to suggest that people who rely on fitness trackers lose less weight than their peers who don’t shell out for the wearable tech.
“Weight loss is much more complex than simply monitoring activity with a device and encouraging individuals to do more. There is an eating component that if not considered can easily wipe out the energy expenditure of physical activity,” Dr. John Jakicic told Global News.
Another study, published in March, warned that fitness trackers are way off when it comes to logging calories burned — to the tune of overestimating by up to 204 calories and underestimating by 278 calories.
Drug overdose deaths: Paramedics, firefighters, cops and frontline healthcare workers battled one of the worst years for drug overdose deaths — where handfuls of regions grappled with an opioid crisis. B.C., for example, saw 622 overdose deaths by October.
Health Canada, for its part, is ramping up efforts to tame the “crisis” it’s seeing within our borders.
“Health Canada is deeply concerned about the growing number of opioid-related overdoses and deaths associated with street drugs, such as illicitly produced fentanyl, as well as pharmaceutical opioids, in British Columbia, as well in other parts of Canada,” the department said in a statement to Global News.
— With files from Nicole Bogart and Paula Baker, Global News