Wellness Weekly: A Snapshot of the Top News in Wellness

Policy and Politics

Responses are rolling in to the FDA’s new nutrition facts labels, and leaders in the beverage industry are expressing their support. At the annual Partnership for a Healthier America summit in DC, Coca-Cola North America President Sandy Douglas and American Beverage Association CEO Susan Neely both spoke in favor of the labels, which include a line item for “added sugars.” At the same time, though, a former top-ranking FDA official has cautioned that revamped labels do not automatically translate to healthy eating habits.

The House this week passed a bipartisan bill to regulate toxic chemicals found in products such as clothing, furniture, and household cleaning items. The bill, which passed by a wide margin, is a long-awaited update to the the 40-year-old Toxic Substances Control Act, adding new chemicals as well as considerations for vulnerable populations like children and pregnant women. Many states already have their own chemical regulation laws, and this federal ruling would not pre-empt any rules already in place.

This week marked Organic Week DC, the annual policy conference of the Organic Trade Association. During visits to Capitol Hill, the OTA met with USDA officials to discuss the future of several high-priority regulations, including beekeeping, pet food, and humane treatment of poultry and livestock. The OTA is also lobbying the Department of Agriculture to create a “certified transitional” label for farmers to use as they go through the three-year certification process to become organic.

Celebrity chefs including Top Chef’s Tom Colicchio were in Washington this week to testify in support of the Food Date Labeling Act, recently proposed by Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME) and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT). The hearing was followed by a thematic reception hosted by Rep. Pingree that featured dishes made from “recovered food.”

Beginning on June 6, chain restaurants in New York City will face a $200 fine unless they post sodium warnings next to menu items that contain more than 2,300mg of salt (the recommended daily maximum). The National Restaurant Association sued the city over the rule in December, and is appealing a February state Supreme Court decision that ruled in favor of the city.

 

Children and youth

Global Running Day will take place on June 1, and this year, organizers are asking kids to pledge to join in the Million Kid Run. Supported by research suggesting that group fitness activities can be more successful than individual ones, the Million Kid Run seeks to introduce kids to running and physical activity in a safe, organized context. So far, the initiative has reached nearly half of its target number of signups.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) published a report this week finding that Coca-Cola has not stayed true to its pledge not to advertise to kids. Coke policy is to refrain from ad buying in any media whose audience is more than 35% children under 12, but the CSPI report indicates that Coke produces kid-oriented online games and regularly markets to family-friendly shows with large child audiences.

 

New insights

Inc.’s 30 Under 30, released this week, features a number of food- and wellness-oriented startups, including Banza, which makes pasta from chick peas; Grove, a fish-tank-sized indoor garden for growing herbs and vegetables; and Mati Energy, which produces a tea-based energy drink.

Michelle Obama’s work with nutrition will live on past her tenure in the White House, she announced last week. The Atlantic dove deeper into the progress that has been made over the past six years, and the future of the Partnership for a Healthier America.

Researchers from the University of Washington examined the use of food journals as a way of controlling weight. Of over 400 women who participated in one study, those who journaled lost an average of 13% of their initial body weight, while those who didn’t lost just 8%. The research also points to the value of keeping a food diary for people with diabetes, food allergies, or gastrointestinal issues.

Following up on the FDA’s release of new nutrition labels, researchers at the University of North Carolina found that 60% of packaged food and drinks include some form of added sugar - and not all of it is obvious. Their list of “words that really just mean ‘added sugar’” is over 80 words long and illustrates the difficulty of identifying which foods contain added sugars, which the new FDA labels hope to alleviate.

Adding to the already fraught debate over sodium, a new meta-analysis of four studies found that low-sodium diets may increase the risk of heart disease. Though the maximum recommended daily sodium intake is 2.3 grams per day (as noted above), participants who ate less than 3 grams were at increased risk for heart disease and stroke compared with those who ate 4 or 5 grams. Researchers noted that while reducing sodium intake can help people with high blood pressure, it is important to maintain some salt in their diets to avoid the potential for cardiovascular issues.

Researchers in Canada studied nearly 9,000 neighborhoods in Ontario and found that the most “walkable” areas had the lowest rates of overweight and obese inhabitants. Their study rated each neighborhood by “walkability,” and the obesity rates in the top fifth of walkable neighborhoods were more than 10% lower than those in the bottom fifth. The prevalence of diabetes also correlated with a neighborhood’s lack of walkability.

A study from a team of geographers at Ohio State and Arkansas Tech University indicates that, as far as food access, store hours may be just as restrictive as location. For low-income consumers and full-time working mothers, many of whom have to rely on public transportation to do their grocery shopping, stores that close early or open late often prevent reliable access to healthy and fresh food.

 

Innovative models, med tech and wearables

A new subscription-based fitness app, Proday, offers users the chance to follow along with professional athletes as they perform their exercise routines. With funding from the Los Angeles Dodgers, among others, developer Sarah Kunst has recruited NFL players and Olympic medalists to produce videos for the app’s workout programs.

Google has introduced updated software for its Android wearables. The Android Wear 2.0 system includes automatic activity tracking, as well as an API that allows data to be exchanged between different wellness apps.

A silk-based coating developed at Tufts University may offer a solution to the problem of spoiled produce. Researchers found that strawberries coated in the silk protein did not deteriorate when left at room temperature for a week, whereas those with no coating became discolored and dehydrated. The initial study did not allow for tasting of the strawberries, though the scientists claim the coating is tasteless and edible.

Fitbit has come under fire for inaccurately measuring heart rates, and the plaintiffs in a class-action lawsuit against the company have commissioned a study that corroborates their claims. According to the research, heart rate measurements by Fitbit’s Charge and Surge products differ from an electrocardiogram by 15.5 and 22.8 beats per minute, respectively. The company has fought back against the study, accusing it of using “flawed methodology.”

The Wall Street Journal interviewed a panel of privacy experts to gather information on how employers should manage data from wearables they give to their employees. Researchers and policymakers weighed in on the importance of maintaining employee security, the dangers of misuse of data, and the responsibility of companies to inform employees if data uncovers serious health conditions.

A recent study suggests that unreliable internet access can be a major barrier to the effective use of health technology in low-income populations. Fueling the concern that wearable wellness gear is used primarily by wealthy consumers, the study found that participants were much less likely to seek health information online if they experienced connectivity problems.

Justin’s, the Colorado-based producer of nut butters and snacks, was sold to Hormel Foods for an undisclosed sum.

 

Natural Products, Sustainability, and Environment

The U.S. Public Interest Research Group sharply criticized KFC’s use of antibiotics in its chicken. KFC has stated that it will only use antibiotics to treat sick chickens, though its sister company Taco Bell plans to stop using such medicine altogether.

The Local Foods Data Tracking Program, a collaboration between the USDA and the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food, and Markets, has found that food served at farmers markets is, more often than not, competitively priced with food served in traditional retail stores. Produce is similarly priced around 90% of the time; local meat and eggs tend to be slightly more expensive, but are still competitive with retail prices more than half of the time.

A USDA study found that the premiums for organic products sold in stores have fluctuated in the last decade. Typically, though, organic products cost at least 20% more than non-organic products.

A public-private partnership between Land O’Lakes and Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton aims to increase participation in the state's water quality certification program, which allows farmers and landowners to be recognized for water stewardship and conservation practices.

Beyond Meat, which develops plant-based alternatives to meat, began selling its Beyond Burger product this week, in the meat display case at a Whole Foods in Boulder, CO. Sales of vegetarian food substitutes are on the rise, but this is the first time a plant-based “burger” has made its way into the meat section.

Hampton Creek, maker of the popular eggless mayonnaise Just Mayo, is looking to raise capital as it seeks to expand into a vegan conglomerate. In its efforts to raise $200 million, the company has touted potential future plant-based products, including meatless chicken tenders and oysters.

 

Philanthropic updates and Grants

Ashoka, an organization which supports the work of social entrepreneurs worldwide, has partnered with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to launch an initiative aimed at promoting children’s health. Called the Children’s Wellbeing Initiative, the program will research innovations in child wellness and create a network of policymakers and business leaders to identify and scale effective models, beginning with the development of an action plan between now and October.

New Balance awarded a free pair of tennis shoes to every student at an elementary school in Bowling Green, KY this week. Students at Cumberland Trace Elementary won the shoes for logging the number of miles they walked and ran throughout the school year. The contest was part of New Balance’s 1 Billion Mile Race, a three-year initiative to encourage schools nationwide to walk or run 1 billion total miles.

This week, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation announced the finalists for the 2016 Sports Award, which honors organizations and teams that make a difference in their communities through physical activity. This year’s finalists include the U.S. Soccer Foundation, the Washington Nationals Youth Baseball Academy, the Wendy Hilliard Gymnastics Foundation, and the youth extreme sports program STOKED.

Hawaii-based singer-songwriter Jack Johnson is teaching students in his home state about composting and food waste management through the Kokua Hawaii Foundation, the environmental education nonprofit he founded. Johnson’s work with Lanikai Elementary in Oahu is the subject of a documentary short produced by Sustainable America and NationSwell.

 

Other

In a review of two decades of research, the New York Times turned a skeptical eye towards the idea that skipping breakfast is associated with poor health. The article notes that many pro-breakfast studies are funded by biased entities (like Kellogg and Pepsi) and that almost none demonstrate any causal relationship between breakfast and good health.

MarketWatch reports a slight decline in global alcohol consumption in 2015, to about 248 billion liters from close to 250 billion the previous year. This is the first decrease since 2001, when tracking began - though North America is an exception, with an 0.7 billion liter increase in consumption since 2014.