Wellness Weekly: A Snapshot of the Top News in Wellness

Policy and Politics

The FDA is beginning a process to redefine what “healthy” means when it comes to labeling. Currently, in order to make a claim on the label that a product is “healthy”, regulations require the item to be very low in fat (containing no more than 3 grams of fat per serving). This means that many snacks generally considered to be healthy, such as nuts, do not qualify for the “healthy” label. KIND, the maker of protein and snack bars, supported a petition asking the FDA to reconsider the definition. The FDA is also under pressure from lawmakers to evaluate how they should define “natural” on labels.

The USDA weighed in against the House’s controversial child nutrition authorization bill last week. The agency instead supports the Senate version, which passed the Senate Agriculture Committee unanimously earlier this year. The House has not yet moved forward with markup on their version of the bill.

First Lady Michelle Obama’s appearance at the Partnership for a Healthier America’s annual summit next week may provide a platform for announcing the final rules updating the Nutrition Facts panel on foods and beverages, according to Politico. The initial proposed changes to the Nutrition Facts panel included removing the “calories from fat” line and requiring an “added sugars” line, as well as changing the serving size to reflect actual likely consumption (e.g., an entire candy bar).

Hawaii has passed legislation providing tax breaks to farmers who are working toward organic certification. Farmers can get up to $50,000 in tax credits to offset costs of inspections, application fees, and equipment or supplies.

Children and youth

Heisman Trophy Winner Herschel Walker describes how physical education in school “saved (his) life”, and argues for more federal investments in PE.

School nurses play a vital role in improving the health of communities, according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Especially in underserved areas, school nurses are providing important support to students who may be uninsured or lack access to health or dental services.

A new report from USDA shows that access to summer electronic benefits transfer (EBT) reduces food insecurity for children. Pilots of summer EBT that tested two benefit levels ($30/month and $60/month per child) reduced the most severe food insecurity (defined by disrupted eating patterns or limited food intake) by a third.

A study in JAMA Pediatrics has found that mothers who consume artificially sweetened beverages daily while pregnant may double their child’s risk of being overweight by age one. Researchers noted that a causal link has not been found; however, consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages did not show a similar increase in child weight.

New insights

The gap in life expectancy between black and white Americans is at the lowest point ever, driven by improvements in infant mortality and suicide rates. In 1990 there was a 7 year gap in life expectancy; in 2014, this had shrunk in half, to 3.4 years.

Research suggests that healthier communities lead to a healthier workforce, according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s new issue brief.

Eating lots of fiber-rich fruits and vegetables when young may lower a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer, according to a new study out of Harvard’s School of Public Health.

New research suggests that being overweight or obese may no longer raise your risk of an early death. In the 1970s, obese individuals faced a 30% greater risk of early death than normal weight individuals; this gap is now negligible. Researchers believe that improvements in treatment may have led to the narrowing of the longevity gap; however, they warn that diseases like type 2 diabetes are still a concern, and that advice on obesity prevention should remain unchanged.

Innovative models, med tech, and wearables

A new report from PwC has found that nearly half of consumers (49 percent) own at least one wearable device, up from 21 percent two years ago. Fitness wearables are the most popular, but researchers conclude that the rapid growth in the space overall is a promising sign for the market in the future.

46 percent of Americans who use digital health tools (such as smart watches, health apps, and other activity trackers) don’t incorporate the data from those tools into their healthcare, according to a survey from the healthcare tech company HealthMine. Almost as many (42 percent) say they don’t use the data for anything at all.

Food tech funding is down this year from its historic high in 2015, according to CB Insights. Insect-based protein, grocery delivery services, and meal delivery kits are among those doing better in the sector. Some are skeptical of meal kit delivery services, however, noting that “very few, if any, of these meal-kit companies are cash-flow positive.”On a related note, former New York Times writer Mark Bittman has left vegan meal kit delivery company Purple Carrot, six months after leaving his writing gig to join the company.

Natural Products, Sustainability, and Environment

Exposure to pesticides may increase the risk for developing ALS, also called Lou Gehrig’s disease, according to a new study in the JAMA. People with ALS were five times more likely to have been exposed to pesticides.

The ugly vegetable movement is gaining steam, with increasing numbers of nonprofits and advocacy groups pushing to decrease the amount of food wasted as a result of sorting out only the best looking fruits and vegetables for sale. UK’s Tesco and Canada’s Loblaws have both taken steps to increase the amount of blemished food being sold.

In a paper released this week, Oxfam America issued a scathing indictment of poultry manufacturers for unsafe business practices, including denying regular bathroom breaks to their workers, which has led to workers wearing diapers and refraining from eating or drinking at all during their four-to-six-hour shifts.

Philanthropic updates and Grants

The Walmart Foundation announced a $75,000 grant to fund the launch of Rootopia, a “garden to kitchen table education program” that “aims to make growing and eating fresh healthy foods fun.” The grant will serve 3,000 students in Oregon.   

A nonprofit called Organize is trying to revolutionize the way we register, track, and think about organ donation. In addition to hosting events and appearing at festivals, Organize operates social media campaigns and tracks mentions of hashtags like #DonateMyParts to build its network of potential donors. The Nevada Donor Network has been piloting Organize’s registry since last year, and the organization is planning to roll out its operation in other states in the coming months.


10-year-old Kyleigh Bass from Kansas City set a new record for sit-ups, completing 2110 in 90 minutes.

Nike announced that their US-based workforce is majority minority. 52% of American employees identified as non-white in 2014-15. Globally, women make up 48% of Nike’s employees.

A Wall Street Journal op-ed explores the war between cyclists, pedestrians, and drivers, and why cyclists and drivers need to be able to co-exist.

UnderArmour’s CEO is launching a whisky brand. The rye whiskey, Sagamore Spirit, will launch at the Preakness Stakes on May 21st.  

Prince’s former private chef, now an executive at Wholesome Wave, shares anecdotes and memories in Food & Wine Magazine.