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 proposed a set of voluntary guidelines aimed at reducing salt in packaged food and restaurant meals. The rules set a series of targets for gradual sodium reduction, with the goal of reducing average salt consumption from 3,400 milligrams per day to 2,300 milligrams. A number of large food industry players, including Mars, Nestle, PepsiCo, and Unilever, have expressed support for the federal government’s proposal.

The School Nutrition Association sent a letter to the ranking members of the House education committee, urging them to reconsider the block grant program in the child nutrition reauthorization act, which passed the committee in May. In the letter, the SNA expressed its concern that the three participating states in the block grant would suffer from decreased access to certain nutrition programs for students. They are also starting a social media campaign, #StoptheBlock.

 

Children and youth

Keeping the K-12 population fit and eating well

Meditation may help boost student achievement, making it a valuable tool for schools working to close the achievement gap. After adding two 15-minute periods of quiet to the school day, during which students could practice meditation or engage in other silent activities, a school in San Francisco saw suspension rates drop by 79%, attendance rise by 98%, and GPAs increase over three years.

A decades-long study in the International Journal of Obesity has found that aerobic exercise during childhood decreases the risk of cardiovascular diseases in early adulthood. Regardless of initial weight and amount of body fat, participants who exercised more during childhood saw a decrease in long-term health risks as they grew older. The authors of the study note that as obesity rates for children have increased and fitness rates have decreased, fewer children may be able to take advantage of this finding than when the study began in 1985.

 

New insights

Studies, new research, healthy nutrition and habits

The Associated Press took a deep dive into industry-backed scientific studies, exploring the role of corporations in the field of nutrition research. Taking a close look at studies funded by PepsiCo, Kellogg, and the National Confectioners Association, among others, the report examines how financial concerns can motivate researchers to emphasize favorable outcomes, and how food companies withhold neutral or negative results in studies they fund.

According to a series of studies conducted at the Yale School of Public Health, adults who have an optimistic view of aging tend to live longer than those who see aging negatively. Those with positive views of aging were also more likely to recover from health issues, while pessimists had a higher chance of developing the cognitive changes found in Alzheimer’s disease.

Researchers at Texas A&M have found that standing desks benefit workers’ productivity as well as their health. In a study of employees in a Texan call center, those with standing desks had 53% more successful calls than their seated colleagues. Research on standing desks in schools has found similar positive results for student engagement and performance.

In April, a study of older adults with early indicators of Alzheimer’s disease found that participants who took an hour-long yoga class each week, and practiced 15 minutes of meditation per day, showed increased performance in cognitive and memory tests. Those who learned yoga and meditation had better results after 12 weeks than a separate group that practiced brain training exercises and classroom activities.

Edible insects are a rising trend, from protein bars to stir fries, and the first conference on eating insects is coming to Detroit this year. In honor of the event, Forbes digs into the health and ethical advantages of insect-based food.

Whole Foods launched its first 365 store last week, prompting an in-depth look at the layout and design of the smaller, millennial-oriented market, from frozen food section to checkout line.

In the face of declining chocolate sales, Hershey’s is beginning to produce high-protein snacks, beginning with beef jerky. The announcement follows the candy company’s acquisition of Krave Pure Foods, a producer of artisanal jerky, in 2015.

 

Innovative models, med tech and wearables

A reporter at CNBC tried out ten different wearable fitness trackers, testing how they counted steps, measured heart rate, and tracked total distance. The results of the non-scientific “study” showed significant variation between devices; as a result, the author concludes that wearables are probably best used to track relative progress, not absolute figures. Meanwhile, Jawbone, one of the subjects of the study, is said to be developing a new health tracking wearable even as it has stopped producing the once-popular Up fitness tracker.

The maker movement, which encourages do-it-yourself tinkering and innovation, has spread to healthcare. MakerHealth creates “medical makerspaces” within hospitals, providing raw materials from which which nurses, doctors, and even patients can create their own tools to improve the quality of care. The movement is growing in popularity, but has faced resistance due to the rigorous standards of some hospital systems and institutions.

A Chicago nonprofit is using a software algorithm to match food donors (such as restaurants and grocery stores) with food providers. So far, the platform has enabled the organization, Zero Percent, to match and distribute over 300,000 pounds of food. Zero Percent also operates a crowdfunding platform for its partner nonprofits, and is preparing to launch in Nashville and Minneapolis.

After several major grocery stores in Flint, Michigan shut their doors, the city’s Mass Transportation Authority (MTA) took action, introducing the Rides to Groceries bus route to shuttle residents to grocery stores. Buses on the route cost half the price of a typical bus ride, and the service has expanded to provide door-to-door service for a small added fee. When the project began, ridership stood at 235 people per month; now, it has grown to 900 riders.

 

Natural products, sustainability, and environment

Makers of personal care products are adding “no lists” to shampoo, deodorant, and other hygiene products. Including phrases such as “no parabens” or “no sulfates,” the lists are intended to warn shoppers of potentially harmful ingredients. Some doctors and other experts caution that there is still a lack of clear information over which ingredients are most prudent to avoid.

After federal officials found that nearly half of those suffering from a recent E.coli outbreak had become ill after baking, General Mills recalled several batches of its flour products earlier this week. General Mills reported that it had not found the bacteria in any of its products, but that it was acting preemptively to reassure consumers.

Following on the heels of McDonald’s and Taco Bell earlier this year, Pizza Hut announced that it would require chicken suppliers to stop using antibiotics important to human medicine. The chain will also remove certain artificial preservatives in its meat and cheese.

The small town of Ajo, Arizona, is a model of community health and sustainable food, reports The Atlantic. Despite dealing with scorching summers and minimal rainfall, the few thousand citizens of Ajo have created a thriving ecosystem with gardens, farmer’s markets, and a food education curriculum offered at the local elementary school.

A study released by the Organic Trade Association suggests that organic farming can lead to a healthier local economy. The report found that counties designated “organic hotspots” - that is, those that have robust activity in organic farming and are surrounded by similar regions - had a poverty rate up to 1.3% less than that of typical counties.

McDonald’s has begun testing fresh, never-frozen hamburger patties in select restaurants in Dallas. The company notes that the supply of fresh beef is not yet enough to support a national rollout, though according to a separate report from Reuters, the market for fresh burgers is expected to continue rising in years to come.

 

Philanthropic updates and Grants

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is accepting proposals for its Engaging Business for Health program, which will fund studies of how private-sector investment can positively impact public health. Up to eight studies will be funded, with approximately $250,000 allocated per study. The deadline for submission of proposals is June 14.

On Thursday, the MacArthur Foundation introduced the 100&Change competition, which will take place every three years and award $100 million to an organization that proposes a way to solve a major global problem. The Foundation is open to reviewing submissions from any field and anywhere in the world, but expects the ideas to center around solutions to major social challenges.

Facebook is operating a farmer’s market in the parking lot of its Menlo Park neighborhood. The market is one of a number community engagement efforts taken by the social media giant, and Facebook is expected to build a physical grocery store on its campus in the future.

June is National Dairy Month, and the food bank network Feeding America has partnered with the Great American Milk Drive to increase donations of milk to children and families in need. To support their efforts, the groups have launched a social media campaign around the hashtag #MilkDrive.

 

Other

Google’s 2016 Food Trends report uses food search data from the past two years to detect, analyze, and predict the rises and falls in food popularity. Among the rising stars are turmeric, sourdough bread, and funfetti; waffles and sugar cookies top the list of most popular recipe searches.

Nestle, Anheuser-Busch InBev, and Coca-Cola top the list of most powerful food and drink companies, according to the annual Global 2000 list produced by Forbes.

The billionaire founder of Lululemon published an open letter to investors this week, criticizing the company for having “lost its way.” Chip Wilson, who resigned from the board last year after a series of scandals, lamented the rise of competing “athleisure” offerings from companies like Nike and Under Armour.

Nike and Under Armour have been in the news themselves lately, as competing sponsors of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors, who are currently facing off in the NBA Finals. Under Armour also recently announced that it will launch its sportswear brand this fall.