Wellness Weekly: A Snapshot of the Top News in Wellness

Erica Price Burns

Policy and Politics:

An overview of relevant policy, regulatory, and political events

  • The House Education and Workforce's Health, Employment, Labor, and Pensions subcommittee held a hearing on corporate wellness plans and innovations in health care this week.  Witnesses included the VP of corporate wellness for Fitbit and the head of employee relations for Hallmark.
  • A new program from the Center for Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS) pays primary care providers to keep chronically diseased patients healthy.  The agency hopes to save $2 billion over 5 years.
  • Oakland, CA has put a soda tax on the November ballot.  The tax will be one cent per ounce for sugar-sweetened beverages, and supporters of the tax say it will lead to $12 million in new revenue.  Berkeley, CA has passed such a tax before; San Francisco tried but came up short of the necessary two-thirds majority to pass it.
  • The Salt Institute (which represents the salt industry) sent a letter to Sec. Burwell and Sec. Vilsack, arguing that the science around sodium is inconclusive and the current Dietary Guideline, which limits adults to about a teaspoon of salt per day, should be thrown out.

Children and youth

Keeping the K-12 population fit and eating well

  • A new study, funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, found that revenues from school lunches did decline in the year following the implementation of the new, healthier school meals standards (which include removing “competitive foods” like chips and other vending machine snacks), however, the revenues rebounded in subsequent years following implementation. These findings contradict one of the main arguments of the School Nutrition Association and other opponents of the new rules, who have long said that school lunch revenues fell as a result of the healthier standards.
  • The LA Times offers 7 ways to become a “fitness model” for your kids, including being active daily and having children help prepare food.

New Insights

Studies, new research, healthy nutrition and habits

  • The Bipartisan Policy Center, in partnership with the IOM’s Provider Training and Education Work Group, and with financial support from Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, is beginning a multi-year project to help train healthcare professionals to more effectively support healthy habits and prevention behaviors among their patients (e.g. healthy eating, active living).  
  • JAMA, the Journal of the AMA, dedicated a recent issue to the question of income and life expectancy.  Articles covered the history and reasons for the connections between mortality and income, new analysis from 1.4 billion income tax records that demonstrates that higher incomes are associated with longer life expectancy-- especially for men, and coverage of the impact that unhealthy eating habits have on life expectancy. 
  • A new analysis of 40-year-old data that led to the current low-fat dietary guidelines found that while individuals in the original trial who were on a low-fat diet did lower their cholesterol, they actually were more likely to die from heart-related causes than those on a higher-fat diet.
  • Women who exercise while pregnant may be more likely to pass a love of physical activity on to their children, according to a new study.
  • Locally produced dairy from small farms (microdairies) is gaining steam; Whole Foods has seen double-digit growth of locally-produced grass-fed cow’s milk over the past two years.
  • An investigation into “farm to table” restaurants and farmers markets in Tampa, Florida found that many of the allegedly locally-produced items used by restaurants or sold in farmers markets were not, in fact, local (think: “Florida crab” actually from the Indian Ocean).  Interest from consumers in eating locally may be driving this dishonest behavior. 
  • Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, co-authored a USA Today piece on the black-white health equity gap.


Innovative Models and Technology

  • Cleveland Clinic, CVS, and American Well are partnering to bring telehealth into the mainstream. CVS clinic patients will now have access to Cleveland Clinic doctors via telehealth at pilot CVS locations in Ohio.  
  • Naked Labs has released what it calls “the world’s first 3D fitness tracker.”  The system uses a scale, turntable, and cameras to capture your entire body, and calculate your body fat percentage.  The goal of the tool, according to its creator, is to help motivate individuals who may not see changes on the scale after exercising, but who nevertheless are getting positive benefits in terms of muscle tone or other changes.  The tracker is available for pre-order for $500.
  • A group of diabetes patients created a mobile platform for helping other diabetes patients continuously monitor their blood glucose levels from multiple devices.  The result was Project Nightscout, and open-source community that is using the data from this platform to move the needle on type 1 diabetes (including creating an artificial pancreas).


Clean Labels and Safe Products

  • Strawberries and apples topped the “Dirty Dozen” list of produce with most pesticides, released this week by the Environmental Working Group.
  • Ortho, a division of Scotts Miracle-Gro, announced they will stop using a type of chemicals, called neonics, believed to harm bees.  Declining bee populations are a source of concern for many environmentalists, who point out the important role that the pollinators play in our food supply.
  • Fast food, in addition to being high in fat and sodium, may contain more phthalates-- chemicals associated with higher  blood pressure, diabetes, and allergic diseases in children.


Philanthropy in Action

  • New Balance has launched a “School Shoe Make-over” contest, in partnership with Tufts University/Child Obesity 180.  K-6 schools who enter the New Balance Billion Mile Race and track their student’s walking/running have the opportunity to win the grand prize (New Balance shoes for the entire school-- up to 1,000 pairs).  200 runner-up schools will receive New Balance water bottles. The contest runs throughout the month of April.
  • Three Arizona schools will receive $100,000 state-of-the-art fitness centers from the National Fitness Champion campaign, as part of the National Foundation for Governors’ Fitness Councils, AZ Governor Doug Ducey announced this week. The Governor’s Fitness Councils hopes to scale the program nationally over the next few years; prizes are funded via partnerships with Coke, Nike, the CareMore Foundation, TuffStuff Fitness, and others.
  • Under Armour, along with the Cal Ripken Foundation, funded development of a multi-sport field in Washington, DC, very close to the W/A offices.  Named after National’s player Ryan Zimmerman, the field will be used for soccer, baseball, and other sports, and will be home to Capitol Hill Little League.