6. FDA Gains Oversight of Tobacco Products. In a move anti-smoking advocates have been lobbying to see for decades, President Obama in June granted the U.S. Food and Drug Administration oversight over cigarettes and other tobacco products. The agency's clout in helping to curb smoking -- especially among the young -- remains to be seen, but American Heart Association CEO Nancy Brown called the move "a bold and courageous step."
7. Worries Over Two Common Plastics Chemicals. New findings on health effects from bisphenol A (BPA) and phthalates -- ubiquitous chemicals found in items such as baby bottles, children's toys and eating utensils -- sparked public fears this year. Researchers found high levels of BPA tied to impotence in men, aggression in young girls, infertility and arrhythmias; while phthalates were associated with "feminized" play and breast development in boys. Consumer advocates called for bans on both substances, but the chemicals industry defended their use, saying much more study was needed to prove a link.
8. Good News, Bad News in the Fight Against Autism. Parents of children with autism spectrum disorders received a mixed bag of news in 2009. In February, a federal judge ruled out any connection between childhood vaccination and the developmental disorder, a clear setback for families who have long claimed a link. And in December, researchers at the CDC found that the number of 8-year-olds with autism jumped 57 percent between 2002 and 2006, to one in every 110 children. But there was good news, too: A study in this month's issue of Pediatrics found that an intensive intervention program for toddlers can work to curb autism -- if it is begun early enough.
9. Alternative to Warfarin May Be Near. For decades, a tough-to-manage blood thinner called warfarin has been the standard of care for millions of heart patients. The drug offers potent anti-clotting powers but must be constantly monitored to minimize bleeding risks. This fall, however, three promising studies suggested that a new drug, dabigatran -- already approved in Canada and Europe -- works as well as warfarin but is much easier to control.
10. New Promise in the Fight Against AIDS. HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, had a rather bad year in 2009. Results from one of the first completed vaccine trials found the combo shot had only a modest effect in shielding recipients from infection, but it did suggest that more potent immunization could be possible. And on the treatment front, the WHO in October announced that in 2008, 42 percent of people in the developing world who are infected with HIV now had access to life-extending medications -- a tenfold increase in access over the prior five years.
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