Health stories that made headlines in 2016

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Sarah Wiedersehn
(Australian Associated Press)


Health stories in the headlines in 2016

Zika went viral, coffee drinkers got some good news, a 62-year-old Tasmanian woman became Australia’s oldest first time mum and the world was introduced to the first ‘three-parent’ baby.

We were told a daily one-hour walk is all that’s needed to offset the health risks of sitting too long, all the while the population just kept getting fatter.


First discovered in 1947, most were unaware of the Zika virus until 2016 when in January the World Health Organisation (WHO) announced a public health emergency.

The virus had spread to more than 60 countries and territories after it was identified in Brazil in 2015.

Carried by mosquitoes, the Zika virus can cause the rare birth defect microcephaly and other neurological disorders in infants and adults.

Several countries, including Australia, advised women visiting high risk zones to avoid getting pregnant during the outbreak and it raised serious concerns about athletes attending the Olympic Games in Rio.

The Federal Health Department said there were 76 confirmed cases in Australia, but only in travellers who had picked it up abroad

In November, WHO declared an end to the Zika emergency but warned the mosquito-borne virus still posed a “highly significant and a long-term problem”.


Scientists from across the globe, including several in Australia, revealed more of the world’s population in now obese than is underweight.

A survey that covered 186 countries, representing 99 per cent of the world’s population, showed that there are now six times as many obese people as there were in 1975, around 641 million.

About one in 10 men and one in seven women are now obese.

In Australia, estimates showed that two out of every five people will be obese by 2025.

Despite our waistlines widening, the chances of a sugar tax being imposed in Australia was all but ruled out by the federal government.

Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce said it was “bonkers” to expect the taxman to solve Australia’s obesity problem.


The World Health Organisation delivered some good news for those of us who rely on a cup or two of morning Joe to function.

Coffee had previously been classified by the International Agency for Research Cancer (IARC), the cancer arm of the WHO, as “possibly carcinogenic to humans”.

But a review of the evidence led the agency to announce that coffee is not classifiable as to its carcinogenic impact on humans.

This essentially means you can enjoy your latte or cappuccino with peace of mind, because scientists are now more certain than they were that it isn’t giving you cancer as long as it isn’t too hot.

In the same IARC report, it was found consuming drinks at above 65 degrees celcius “probably” can cause cancer.


In a surprise announcement at a fertility conference in September, US scientists introduced the world’s first ‘three-parent baby’.

The baby boy was born using an in vitro fertilisation (IVF) technique called mitochondrial DNA transfer.

The technique was used to prevent the baby from developing a diseased called Leigh syndrome, which the baby risked inheriting from the mother.

A controversial technique called spindle nuclear transfer, which has not been approved in most countries, was used.

This involves transplanting the nucleus of the mother’s egg into a donor egg with healthy mitochondria, meaning the fertlised egg and embryo contain genetic material from three different people.


The arrival of a baby girl born to a 62-year-old woman and 78-year-old man in Melbourne sparked a nationwide debate, with the head of the Australian Medical Association labelling it “madness”.

At 62, a Tasmanian woman became Australia’s oldest first time mum, taking over from a woman who gave birth at age 60 in 2010.

The woman gave birth at 34 weeks via a caesarean at Frances Perry Private Hospital on August 1.

It’s believed the Tasmanian woman had undergone several years of failed IVF procedures and was implanted with a fertilised donor embryo at a facility overseas.

What the couple did wasn’t illegal but was labelled “irresponsible” by doctors.

Australian Medical Association president Michael Gannon said the couple’s decision to have a child at their advanced age was “selfish” and wrong.


Just one hour of brisk walking a day could eliminate the harmful health risks of sitting on your toosh all day.

Authors of a global study, published in prestigious journal The Lancet, found physical activity is important no matter how many hours a day are spent sitting.

In fact, the increased risk of premature death associated with sitting for eight hours a day was eliminated for people who did a minium of one hour of physical activity per day.

Those at greatest risk of premature death were the people who sat for long periods of time and were inactive.


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