Wellness Weekly: A Snapshot of the Top News in Wellness

Erica Price Burns

Wellness Weekly: A Snapshot of the Top News in Wellness

Policy and Politics:

An overview of relevant policy, regulatory, and political events

Democrats in the House last week introduced the Food Labeling Modernization Act, which would re-design food labels, add front-of-package labeling for processed foods, and would work to clarify the terms natural and healthy, including setting some standards around what healthy means.

On Wednesday, anti-poverty activists, including the Delta Grassroots Caucus and Feeding America, have praised Senator Boozman's (R-AR) Hunger Free Summer Act for Kids (SB 1966). The bill, introduced in August, would allow for greater flexibility in the rules governing summer feeding programs. The bill is currently awaiting action in the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee.

The Maine Department of Health and Human Services has submitted a request to federal administrators of the SNAP program to ban the purchase of candy and soft drinks with SNAP dollars. Nine other states (including Minnesota) have previously requested a similar ban/limitation on sugary purchases.

On Monday, the Supreme Court declined to hear the case of Ron Hines, a veterinarian who offered advice about animals over the phone instead of face-to-face, as state regulations require. The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals had previously held that Hines had acted illegally; Hines had maintained that the Texas regulations violated his first amendment rights. On a related note, the litigation between the Texas Medical Board and Teladoc is ongoing. Teladoc maintains that the Texas regulation requiring an in-person exam before telemedicine services are offered is anti-competitive.

Children and youth

Keeping the K-12 population fit and eating well

High school students in the honors civics class at Roosevelt High School in Chicago launched the School Lunch Project website and a petition to improve the food in the school district, saying that the cafeteria fare is unhealthy, disgusting, and overly processed - students point out that, in spite of nutrition requirements, the school menu mostly rotates between pizza, burgers, and chicken patties.

In an interview with POLITICO, Republican presidential candidate and former governor Mike Huckabee said he agreed with the goals of Michelle Obama's healthy eating campaign, but he disagrees on implementation. "It [cafeteria food] should be better, healthier, more nutritious, but you have to do some things incrementally. You can't just go in one day and say no more fries. ... You have to take it slowly."

New insights

Studies, new research, healthy nutrition and habits

The Grocery Manufacturer's Association has launched a new QR code-based smart label' to provide more clarity on food choices; the Environmental Working Group argues that most consumers don't use QR codes, and that the voluntary program doesn't easily provide information on whether or not a product contains GMOs.

On Tuesday (Dec. 1), New York City's new sodium labeling regulation went into effect. The first-of-its-kind law puts a warning symbol next to foods on chain restaurant menus that include high levels of sodium, but does not limit allowable sodium levels. „The National Restaurant Association filed a lawsuit against the health department (the creator of the regulation), arguing that they overstepped their authority, and that such a regulation can only be made by the City Council.

New York City food banks are reporting increased need for their services as a result of SNAP benefit cuts (the cuts began in 2013). „The food banks note that the SNAP cuts amount to $18 a month less for many households, who now rely on food banks to fill the gaps.

A new study in the Lancet argues that the prevalence of sugar-sweetened foods and beverages in developed nations is expanding to other areas of the world. „Currently, 74% of foods sold in the US include sweeteners that are either caloric (e.g. sugar) or non-caloric (e.g. Splenda). „The authors note that We believe that in the absence of intervention, the rest of the world will move towards this pervasiveness of added sugars in the food supply. The also note that consumption of added sugars lead to adverse health outcomes. The American Beverage Association, unsurprisingly, has come out in opposition to the piece.

Rates of new diabetes cases are finally on the decline in the US, after rising for a quarter of a century. „The numbers are not yet statistically significant, and the overall rate of diabetes is still twice what it was in 1990, but researchers are cautiously optimistic about the decline.

A new (small) study has found a potential link between the weight of a man at the time of conception and the weight of his offspring. „The study finds that while the DNA does not change, there are different epigenetic markers that may impact how the gene manifests in children-- including the gene responsible for controlling appetite. Men who lost weight no longer had the DNA markers to pass on to offspring.

Innovative models, med tech and wearables

MIT Technology Review assesses why doctors may not care about your wearable data, noting that both the metrics tracked currently (steps taken, for example) and the validity of those metrics (less reliable than true medical devices) make it difficult to find a clinical use for the data. However, newer med tech wearables that measure more useful data (temperature, heart activity, hydration, blood vessel stiffness) may provide much more useful for medical purposes.

The FDA approved a new device that can send important medical data from a pacemaker to a doctor to help monitor heart activity.

Rock Health explores the Uber-ization of health care, with on-demand services via telehealth, house calls, and medicine delivery. „27% of deals they track over the past week were for on-demand health services; on-demand services are growing 3x faster than digital health services.

Bugs+Drugs, an app from AthenaHealth, was pulled from the app store. „The free app was designed to help doctors track bacterial immunity to drugs and prescribe the best antibiotics. „The app has faced concerns over the past two years about its recommendations of inappropriate drugs.

Clean Labels/Natural and Safe Products

A new report from the USDA finds that climate change may have a negative impact on global food security by disrupting food availability or access for some groups. Food production is of course a concern, but they note that climate change may also impact food storage, transportation, and other factors.

General Mills has announced it will go cage-free by 2025 for all eggs used in its products.

The American Academy of Pediatrics published a report arguing that the use of antibiotics in animals (to keep them healthy in overcrowded areas or make them gain weight) may have detrimental impacts on children, especially those under 5.„