The Year in Health: Key developments will have a lasting impact

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The year 2014 was filled with important health discoveries and developments. Here's what got our attention and will likely affect many of us in the future.

IMPORTANT FINDINGS

Two studies in 2014 took concepts we already knew about to a new level. One, a Harvard study published online Jan. 7, 2014, in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, looked at more than 90,000 women and found that the more time spent sitting--anywhere--the greater the odds of dying early from all causes, including heart disease and cancer, even if women exercised regularly.

Best advice: Every 30 to 60 minutes during the day, get up and walk around for at least a few minutes.

The other study, which included work by Harvard researchers, was published Feb. 3, 2014, in JAMA Internal Medicine. It suggested that people who took in 25 percent or more of their daily calories from added sugar were more than twice as likely to die from heart disease as those whose diets included less than 10 percent added sugar.

This was true even for people who weren't overweight. Best advice: Women should limit added sugar to less than 100 calories per day (about 6 teaspoons), and men should set the limit to less than 150 calories per day (about 9 teaspoons).

TOBACCO SALES HALTED

In September 2014, CVS became the first major pharmacy chain in the United States to stop selling tobacco products. CVS brass said tobacco had no place in any of the 7,700 CVS stores.

AFFORDABLE HEALTH CARE

In 2014, millions of Americans who previously had no health insurance signed up for insurance through the Affordable Care Act--despite months of problems with the government website. The New England Journal of Medicine reported that 10.3 million people gained health insurance through the program.

VIRUSES PROGRESS

Three viruses arrived in the United States in 2014 via health care workers who'd been overseas: Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), chikungunya virus, and Ebola virus. While MERS is sometimes deadly, it is not considered an international health concern because there is no evidence of sustained human-to-human transmission.

Chikungunya virus causes a fever for two to five days, and pains in the joints for a long time afterward. As of this writing, there have been only a handful of cases in the United States. Ebola killed thousands of people in West Africa in 2014. As of this writing, experts believe it is unlikely that there will be many cases in the United States.

"We have the resources for isolation procedures," says Dr. Paul Sax, clinical director of the division of infectious diseases at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston, Mass.

NEW GUIDELINES

A number of new treatment guidelines were released in 2014. The American Heart Association came out with the first-ever guidelines for preventing stroke in women, recommending that women between the ages of 65 and 79 consider taking a daily baby aspirin (81 milligrams) to help prevent the formation of blood clots, which may trigger a stroke.

The American College of Physicians offered guidelines for urinary incontinence--urging pill-free treatments be tried before medications are prescribed, as well as guidelines for obstructive sleep apnea, recommending overnight sleep tests for anyone with unexplained daytime sleepiness. -- Harvard Health Letter

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