2013, the year that was: Health + Medicine

Peter Dutton replaced Tanya Plibersek as minister for health. AAP/Penny Bradfield

The first election year since the launch of The Conversation didn’t have a massive impact on the Health + Medicine page. Sure, we ran quite a few stories on the subject and some of them were avidly read but, for the most part, it was a steady diet of general pieces and articles linked to the news cycle.

But election year it was and it’s ending with a new government in office. We haven’t heard much from minister Peter Dutton yet, but combining the health and sport portfolios could mean good things for both.

Perhaps we’ll see less linking of sport with alcohol, gambling, and junk food. This triumvirate of sins undermines any health messages transmitted through professional sports. And it means bad things for the nation’s well-being.

Perhaps we’ll even see some “sin taxes” to help health funding, an area in which I expect much activity next year.

The Coalition government has already intimated it’s concerned about the current level and mix of health spending. And the Commission of Audit will report on possible savings from current government activity and spending next February.

We had our own audit of health spending (of sorts) earlier in the year with a series on health rationing, which augmented some earlier articles on the subject.

Indeed, there were quite a few series in Health + Medicine in the first half of the year before we were laid low by election fever. We took on pharmacies, revisited the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, considered what it means to have the flu and mapped out the nation’s drinking habits, among other things.

Another landmark was the end of the ever-popular Monday’s medical myths, the longest-running series on the site. After publishing 100 of these, starting soon after we were launched, the series was gracefully retired, and quietly replaced by Health Check.

But the big surprise of the year was the widespread interest in articles about nutrition. We knew people wanted to learn more about this sometimes confusing science, but articles broadly on subject were some of the most read across the site and two of them made it the top five stories of the year for the section.

Overall, 2013 was the year that we became more comfortable in our own skin (our third birthday party is in March 2014) and, I think, we also became more broadly accepted for what we are – an independent, not-for-profit, public interest news website.

This was evident through the growing number of republications of our articles. As you know, The Conversation is a creative commons site and we encourage everyone to republish our content.

The approach did feel peculiar when we first started (I recall struggling to explain to a website administrator that there were no strings attached to republications in our first six months), but seems to have got much wider general acceptance this year.

In fact, acceptance is probably an understatement since two of the top ten Health + Medicine stories from the year are articles that reappeared from our archives in various places.

They were Monday’s medical myth: you can’t mix antibiotics with alcohol from December 2011 and Bare necessity? Public health implications of removing pubic hair from August 2012.

And here are the section’s five most-read analysis articles of 2013:

We’re learning new things all the time and I hope you will join us on this journey again next year.

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