NHS Choices - The top 10 most popular news stories of 2015
In February, there was concern that the vapour produced by e-cigarettes contains free radicals – atoms and molecules that are toxic to cells – and that this could damage people's lungs. Our conclusion: are e-cigarettes safer than normal cigarettes? Almost certainly. Are they 100% safe? Probably not.
There was good news in June, with the announcement that a new vaccine for meningitis B – a highly aggressive strain of bacterial meningitis – would be added to the NHS childhood vaccination schedule. This was the world's first publicly funded vaccination programme for the potentially fatal disease.
In April, a new modelling study looking at trends in life expectancy estimated that male babies born in 2030 could live to an average of 85.7 years, with females living an average of 87.6 years. The research also highlighted the stark effect that economic inequalities can have on health – for example, it estimated that life expectancy in the affluent London borough of Kensington and Chelsea would be five to six years higher than the working class area of Tower Hamlets.
According to BBC News in January, the rise in childhood obesity "may be beginning to level off". While it was encouraging to see that the child obesity epidemic is not worsening, there were no clear signs that it's getting any better. Underlying factors, such as low activity levels and easy access to calorie-rich, nutrient-poor foods, still need to be addressed.
"Too much jogging 'as bad as no exercise at all'," BBC News reported in February. But the results of the Danish study this headline comes from were not as clear-cut as the media made out. One of the study's major limitations was that once the joggers were split into groups by duration, frequency and pace, some individual groups – particularly the most active groups – were much smaller. And, to be honest, people overexercising is not a pressing concern in the UK: the more common problem is people not doing enough.
If it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is. And that was the case with The Daily Telegraph's headline from June: "How to lose weight – drink plenty of red wine". The headline was simply nonsense. The study it's based on did not involve red wine. And it was carried out on mice, not humans. Drinking "plenty of red wine" will not help you to lose weight – if anything, the opposite is true. A standard 750cl bottle of red wine contains around 570 calories, which is more than two McDonald's hamburgers.
"E-cigarettes are 95% less harmful than tobacco and could be prescribed on the NHS in future to help smokers quit," BBC News reported. This was the main finding of an evidence review carried out by Public Health England published in August. Once e-cigarettes are regulated as medical products – which is expected in 2016 – some brands could be made available on prescription.
A review of previous observational studies carried out in March found that long-term use of paracetamol was linked to an increased risk of adverse events such as heart attacks, gastrointestinal bleeds (bleeding inside the digestive system) and impaired kidney function. While the increase in risk was small, the fact the drug is used by millions means further investigation is required.
Another drug scare from January saw claims being made that a class of over-the-counter drugs known as anticholinergics, which are used to treat allergies and muscle cramps, increased the risk of dementia. However, the risk only seemed to be associated with people taking these types of drugs daily on a long-term basis.
The most popular news story of the year, attracting more than 100,000 views, was triggered by a Facebook post that quickly went viral, where a mother claimed that all medicines are free under the minor ailments scheme. But, like a lot of Facebook content, it was complete nonsense: the NHS does not provide free Calpol to all parents. Liquid paracetamol (brands other than Calpol are available) may be given at the pharmacist's discretion to parents who have registered with the scheme.
Edited by NHS Choices. Follow NHS Choices on Twitter. Join the Healthy Evidence forum.