Wellness Weekly: A Snapshot of the Top News in Wellness

Policy and Politics

An overview of relevant policy, regulatory, and political events

On Monday, Seattle’s City Council passed a 1.75-cent-per-ounce tax on sugar-sweetened beverages. Exempted drinks under the tax include 100% fruit juices, zero-calorie diet drinks, and dairy-based beverages. The tax is expected to generate $15 million in revenue per year. Seattle joins seven other municipalities with similar taxes.

The White House announced on Tuesday that Dr. Francis Collins, a holdover from the Obama administration, will be kept on as the Director of the NIH. President Trump’s support of Collins comes even after 40 anti-abortion House Republicans asked Trump to replace Collins, but there is no guaranteed length of time that Collins will remain in his position. Collins has served as NIH director since 2009.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest and the National Consumers League have filed alawsuit challenging the FDA’s decision to delay national menu labeling regulations by one year. The two consumer groups, who are being represented by Earthjustice, accuse the FDA of violating the Administrative Procedures Act by not giving advance notice of the decision (which came days before the regulations were to go into effect) and by not allowing the public an opportunity to comment.

 

Children and Youth

Keeping the K-12 population fit and eating well

No Kid Hungry launched a text service that helps families find local federally-supported summer meal sites. When users text “food” to 877-877, the service will pull information from the USDA’s database of summer meal sites to send the site name, address, phone number, and hours of operation via text message. Texting “comida” will return the same information in Spanish.

The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) has eliminated a $50 million-a-year drain on its budget by developing a self-sustaining food services program. The district’s new food services director eliminated food waste in cafeterias and increased participation in school lunch by introducing chocolate milk back into the school menu and retraining food services staff.

According to a study in Ecuador, feeding one egg per day to very young children (i.e., 6-9 months old) who are at risk of being undernourished can significantly improve growth. Compared to their peers, children given one egg a day were 47% less likely to be stunted and 74% less likely to be underweight.

To promote healthy eating, Williamson County Schools in Tennessee banned the distribution of homemade foods for the 2017-18 school year. The district hopes that the new policy will end the practice of parents bringing homemade sweets, such as cupcakes or cookies, to school to share with their children’s classmates.

Childhood obesity may predict health risks in adulthood, according to recent analysis. After reviewing several studies, researchers concluded that children’s body mass index (BMI) is a strong predictor of risk for abnormal blood sugar levels.

The Oglebay Good Zoo in West Virginia launched the “Zooper Fit Kids” program for children ages 4 and older. The program will ask children to perform a series of fun, physical activities that mimic animal movement, and will also teach children what animals do to stay active. The zoo will also begin offering healthier snack and meal options, including veggie burgers, deli wraps, yogurt, and mixed fruit.

 

New Insights

Studies, new research, healthy nutrition and habits

From 2000 to 2014, the amount of sodium in packaged foods and beverages purchased by U.S. households significantly decreased, according to new research. The study also found, however, that sodium content is still too high; 98% of households had purchased packaged food or beverages with sodium content “exceeding optimal levels.”

An observational study found that people who met six of the American Heart Association’s “Life’s Simple 7” healthy heart goals were 10 times more likely to have healthy blood vessels as they aged compared to those who met none of the goals. AHA’s “Life’s Simple 7” consist of: keeping blood pressure normal, keeping cholesterol low, keeping blood sugar down, staying active, eating healthy, losing weight, and quitting smoking.

A recently published study found that 47% of pregnant women gained more weight than recommended by the Institute of Medicine, and 23% gained less. Excessive weight gain was associated with higher risk of C-section and giving birth to a baby with an excessive birth weight. Less-than-recommended weight gain was associated with a higher risk of preterm birth.

NIH researchers found that children of women who were diagnosed with diabetes during pregnancy, and who drank one or more artificially sweetened beverages (e.g., diet drinks) a day while pregnant, were twice as likely to be considered overweight or obese by age 7 compared to other children. However, substituting water for artificially sweetened beverages during pregnancy reduced the child’s risk of obesity by 17%.

Researchers observed no significant difference in weight loss outcomes between individuals who paid out-of-pocket for a weight management program compared to those whose insurance covered the program. However, individuals covered by insurance were less likely to drop out of the program than those who paid out-of-pocket.

A recent Health Affairs article found that individuals currently receiving housing assistance through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development were more likely to have insurance and lower rates of unmet medical need compared to future recipients. According to the study authors, these results indicate that housing assistance improves health care access.

A series of studies presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology meeting this past week suggest that healthy eating and exercise can improve survival rates of cancer patients. One study found that individuals with colon cancer who exercised regularly and ate more fruits and vegetables (and less meat and refined grains) than other patients had a 42% lower risk of death after 7 years. Another study indicated that breast cancer survivors who participated in an exercise program had a lower risk of death compared to those who did not receive exercise counseling.

 

Innovative Models, Med Tech, and Wearables

Amazon announced a Prime discount for Americans with a valid Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card through programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). EBT holders will only have to pay $5.99 per month, compared to the regular subscription price of $99 a year or $10.99 per month.

In a recent interview with CNBC, former Google X founder Sebastian Thrun says that in his free time he is “completely obsessed with trying to make the world's most amazing, nutritious, and delicious dinner in three and a half minutes.” Thrun says the technology is already available to do this and food critics have so far enjoyed the food made by this technology.

FitnessGenes, a UK-based company that develops personalized fitness and nutrition plans for people based on a DNA analysis, raised $5 million in a Series A funding round led by Sino-German High Tech Fund (SGHF). 

Land O’Lakes launched the Dairy Accelerator program, an entrepreneurship program to support U.S.-based dairy food startups that use dairy as a primary ingredient (excluding butter or butter-based spreads). The company will invite entrepreneurs for a three-month bootcamp in the Twin Cities to learn about finance, brand building, manufacturing, sales, distribution, and leadership development. Participants will receive a $25,000 stipend, and the application deadline is July 8.

This week, Healthcare Dive examined how tech giants and startups are developing solutions to tackle diabetes. For instance, Samsung and WellDoc teamed up to offer a mobile diabetes management tool through an app approved by the FDA.

Tennis champion Serena Williams and actress Gwyneth Paltrow have invested in Daily Harvest, a food startup that aims to deliver fresh, healthy frozen food. Daily Harvest claims that frozen produce is often fresher than produce sold in the grocery store produce section because it is picked and frozen at peak ripeness. The startup offers ready-to-blend organic smoothies, overnight oats, and chia pudding.

CB Insights lists the 15 most well-funded VC-backed food and beverage startups, which mostly focus on producing plant-based food and drinks. These startups include Revolution Foods, Hampton Creek, Impossible Foods, Beyond Meat, and Califa Farms.

Following last week’s profile of Kimbal Musk, The Wall Street Journal published a piece on the urban farming accelerator Musk co-founded, known as Square Roots. The accelerator aims to expand the indoor vertical farming sector.

Starbucks has begun selling food items from Texas-based startup Snap Kitchen, which specializes in making healthy grab-and-go meals. Snap Kitchen’s meals are currently sold in select Starbucks locations in Houston, but the company hopes to expand it to new markets soon.

 

Clean Labels/Natural and Safe Products/Circular Economy   

The San Jose Mercury takes a deep dive into proposed legislation in California related to labeling of personal care products, cleaning products, and flowers and plants. The bills are being opposed by the Personal Care Products Council, and the legislature has already tabled one bill that would label soda and other sugary drinks with warnings on how they contribute to obesity and another that would add warning labels to food items with synthetic dyes.

In its annual Corporate Responsibility Report this week, Kellogg announced that it has met or exceeded several nutrition and sustainability commitments first set out in 2008. The company reported that 88% of its ready-to-eat cereals now have 150mg or less of sodium, and 90% of all cereals have 10 grams of sugar or less per serving. Kellogg has also helped 294,000 farmers implement sustainable farming practices.

A new Nielsen study reports that while approximately half of U.S. households seek products without artificial ingredients, just 7% of such products actually advertise their lack of artificial ingredients on their packaging. 

In an op-ed in Crain’s New York, the CEO of Dunkin’ Brands argues for the importance of standardized menu labeling nationwide, criticizing the federal government for further delaying implementation of the federal menu labeling law passed in 2010. Nigel Travis writes that the existing patchwork of different state and local labeling requirements can be confusing and expensive for franchise owners.

Researchers found that wasted food across the country included many wasted nutrients, including an estimated 1,200 calories, 146 grams of carbohydrates, 33 grams of protein, 6 grams of fiber, 286 calcium, and 900 milligrams of potassium per person per day. The researchers also noted that the most commonly thrown away food were vegetables, fruits, and seafood.

 

Philanthropic Updates and Grants

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s office announced a partnership with the Dr Pepper Snapple Group and KaBOOM! to offer up to $200,000 to invest in ideas that give more opportunities for children to play in public spaces. The grants will be awarded to partnerships between nonprofits, government entities, and individuals that propose innovative ideas to turn public areas like sidewalks and bus stops into spaces that allow students to play, interact, and learn.

The Maryland-based Bainum Family Foundation will begin working with the nonprofit Community Foodworks to deliver Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) boxes full of fresh, locally grown produce to early child care centers in low-income DC neighborhoods. Since 2016, the Foundation’s farm has stocked the Arcadia Center for Sustainable Food and Agriculture’s Mobile Market with sustainably grown food.

Amazon, in partnership with Merck, is holding a competition for developers to build apps for Amazon’s voice-powered software Alexa that would help people with diabetes manage their condition. The Alexa Diabetes Challenge will award up to five finalists with $25,000 and one grand prize winner with $125,000. Finalists will be announced in July and will participate in a virtual accelerator as the next phase of the competition.

 

Other

A new reality TV show, “Reversed,” follows Americans with type 2 diabetes as they learn to eat healthy and exercise in Jamaica.

Want to learn the secret to 84-year-old Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s good health? Now you can: a book written by her trainer titled “The RBG Workout: How She Stays Strong...and You Can Too!” is scheduled to be released on October 3.

With U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, Second Lady Karen Pence unveiled a beehive at the Vice President’s residence in Northwest DC. Pence hopes to bring attention to the declining bee population that is important for pollinating U.S. crops.