Wellness Weekly: A Snapshot of the Top News in Wellness

Policy and Politics

An overview of relevant policy, regulatory, and political events

The FDA has scheduled a public meeting on March 9 to discuss the meaning of “healthy” on food labels. As we have previously mentioned, the FDA issued a guidance document as well as releasing a Request for Information to understand how “healthy” food should be defined.

A federal judge declined to revive a case in which the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) accused a plastic manufacturer of violating the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) through its wellness program. This is the latest setback for the EEOC, which has argued that wellness programs violate the ADA by requiring that employees disclose medical information to receive certain benefits. In this case, the company required workers to fill out a health questionnaire and undergo biometric testing for its health plan, and penalized those who did not participate or missed their screenings.

The FDA and USDA are moving forward with a plan to modernize regulations around genetically modified organisms. The strategy, initially developed under the Obama Administration, will include new FDA guidance on genetically engineered plants and animals, as well as new USDA rules to reduce the regulatory burden faced by producers of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) that do not pose major risks.

This week, the EPA and USDA Agricultural Research Service were among agencies where gag orders were issued that prohibited employees to speak with media, issue press releases, and post on social media. The USDA order was rescinded after major pushback from the public and media. Career officials at the agencies note that this is standard procedure during administration transitions.


Children and Youth

Keeping the K-12 population fit and eating well

Almost two-thirds of American children drink at least one sugary beverage per day – and 30 percent consume two or more, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. In other soda news this week, the Maryland-based Horizon Foundation has launched a new campaign encouraging kids and teenagers to reduce the amount of sugary drinks they consume.

New research suggests that child pedestrian fatalities are much more likely to occur around parks than around schools. The study’s authors suggest that using safety measures commonly found in school zones (such as pedestrian crossings and lower speed limits) could help prevent injuries and fatalities near parks.


New Insights

Studies, new research, healthy nutrition and habits

A report in the New England Journal of Medicine looks into the use of social incentives to encourage healthy habits. The authors suggest that companies and health advocates should take more advantage of “naturally occurring social forces” (such as competition, collaboration, and reciprocity) to help people engage in healthy behavior.

Focusing on employee health and wellness can help companies retain and engage employees. A new survey found that nearly half of workplaces that promote health and wellness saw increases in employee engagement, and 25 percent saw improved retention.

The Harvard Business Review also took a dive into workplace wellness, exploring the security practices of corporate wellness programs and making the case that employers don’t do enough to protect workers’ health data.

New research suggests that participants in SNAP are more likely to die of cardiovascular disease than nonparticipants, even if those nonparticipants are eligible for the program. The study concludes that more research is needed into the root causes of poor health outcomes for low-income Americans, especially those who participate in SNAP.

According to recent CDC data, the rate of Americans giving up sugary drinks has plateaued. Between 2003 and 2009, children saw significant progress in reducing the number of calories per day that came from sugary beverages from 220 to 155 – but since 2009, that number has only fallen to 143, which is still too high, according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Researchers saw a similar trend among adults.

Recent research suggests that diabetes is an often overlooked cause of death across the United States, and may in fact be the third leading cause of death after cancer and heart disease. The researchers estimated that the death rate due to diabetes was nearly 12 percent, 3 times higher than current estimates – and for obese people, the diabetes mortality rate was 19 percent.

The Competitive Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank, published a report arguing that there is a lack of scientific evidence to support population-wide reduction in sodium intake. The American Heart Association responded by citing a recently published study finding that policy strategies, including industry agreements, to reduce sodium consumption were highly cost-effective. This debate follows controversial targets set by the FDA to reduce sodium in processed, prepared, and prepackaged food.


Innovative Models, Med Tech, and Wearables

After reviewing top health and wellness trends from last year, SmartBrief has released a list of trends they expect to continue in 2017. These include in-store health events (such as dietician-led tours), prepackaged and easy-to-prepare healthy meals, and the continuing popularity of natural and organic products.

McDonald’s is taking strides into the future of food, including partnering with UberEATS to pilot a home delivery service and planning to add more features and functions to its mobile app. What’s more, McDonald’s will pilot a “Big Mac ATM” for a few hours in Boston on January 31.

Umi Kitchen, the food delivery startup backed by Shake Shack founder Danny Meyer, has ended its operations in New York after just four months. Umi, which was designed to help home chefs cook food and distribute it in their communities, attributed its decision to the challenges of delivery economics in New York. Meyer, meanwhile, is expanding his investments in casual-dining establishments.

Oprah has teamed up with Kraft Heinz Co. to sell refrigerated meals under the name Mealtime Stories. Weight Watchers, which Oprah has promoted and invested in, is reportedly not involved with the effort.

In Detroit, Lyft and Meijer grocery stores are piloting a car service program offering $10 round-trip rides for customers who live within 5 miles of the stores. Although the total fare is $20, Meijer picks up half the tab. The program is offered through Cart, a startup based at the University of Michigan that is dedicated to connecting people to healthy and fresh food.

Across the pond, British grocery store chain Sainsbury’s teamed up with the Wellcome Trust to redesign their stores in ways that will nudge shoppers to purchase more produce and less meat. The store will experiment with placing vegetarian alternatives on the same shelves as meat; distributing vouchers and loyalty points for customers choosing vegetarian items; and providing tips and recipes on how to eat less meat.

A vertical farm will soon bring locally sourced, fresh produce to Las Vegas restaurants. The farm is run by Urban Seed and will be the largest local farm in terms of crop yield. To grow food in the Nevada desert, where temperatures reach 110 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer, the farm is set up in greenhouses using a high-tech aeroponics system.

The Washington Post visited Philadelphia’s EAT Cafe, one of a growing number of pay-what-you-can restaurants around the country, and explored the challenges faced by the entrepreneurs and philanthropists behind this new breed of dining establishment.

Under Armour has partnered with Patriots quarterback Tom Brady to release a new line of athlete recovery sleepwear, which reports to use Far Infrared technology to reduce inflammation and regulate metabolism.


Clean Labels/Natural and Safe Products/Circular Economy

In GMO news, the first genetically modified apple that does not brown is expected to debut in select stores in February. Known as the Arctic Golden Apple, the apple is marketed to be convenient for consumers, unlike other crops that are genetically modified to increase crop yields or protect from insects.

The Washington Post researched food safety at chain restaurants, and found that chains tend to keep higher safety standards than non-chains. The article notes that chains have several advantages that make safety monitoring easier, including centralized food preparation and a greater degree of control over their suppliers.


Philanthropic Updates and Grants

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has announced a new grant program that will support research focused on policies that help create a culture of health. The foundation is accepting brief proposals through March 10, and will be awarding approximately $2 million in grants to researchers working on health policy strategies.

A new award from the Thomas Reuters Foundation and the Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition will recognize journalists, bloggers, or freelancers covering food in the media. The winner of the Good Food Media award will receive €10,000 ($10,743) and a media training program. Applications will be accepted through May 31.



Almonds are out of the White House, and Lay’s are in. President Donald Trump has replaced his predecessor’s almonds and apples with his favorite brand of potato chips.

David Bornstein of The New York Times interviewed author Gary Taubes about the role of research in the ongoing debate about the health impacts of sugar.

Fast Company has named a new cohort of its “Most Creative People in Business.” Winners in the food category include California restaurateur Roy Choi, the co-CEOs of Sweetgreen, and the founder of KIND Snacks.