Wellness Weekly: A Snapshot of the Top News in Wellness

Policy and Politics

An overview of relevant policy, regulatory, and political events

On Tuesday, Reps. Tim Ryan (D-OH), Mark Pocan (D-WI), and Jim McGovern (D-MA) introducedthe “Nutrition Coordinators for Local Healthy Youth Act.” The bill would allow school districts to hire qualified professional nutrition coordinators to oversee school nutrition and wellness programs. Pending the reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act, districts would be able to use USDA grants to fund these positions. The legislation is endorsed by FoodCorps, the American Heart Association, SHAPE America, The Food Trust, and the Farm to School Network, among others.

Senate Republicans unveiled their health care bill, the “Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017”, on Thursday. For the most part, the bill mirrors the House’s American Health Care Act, although the Senate retained some Obamacare subsidies that help people pay for individual coverage, and would continue Medicaid expansion for certain states until 2021. As of now, seven Republican senators have expressed concerns about the measure, which may prevent the Senate from gathering enough votes to pass the bill.

Massachusetts policymakers are considering a sugar-sweetened beverage tax, which would impose a 1- to 2-cent-per-ounce tax on sugary beverages depending on the amount of sugar in the drink. At a Senate hearing on the bill this week, tax proponents estimated that the tax could raise $368 million a year for public health programs, while opponents argued that the tax would hurt low-income households. The Tax Foundation indicated that the beverage tax could be as much as 23 times higher than the state’s tax on beer. 


Children and Youth

Keeping the K-12 population fit and eating well

A new report from the USDA finds that the number of children served free summer meals declinedin the summer of 2016 by 4.8%, or 153,000 children. Several problems, such as a decrease in the number of summer enrichment activities where free meals were served, logistical difficulties in finding volunteers and transportation, and challenges reaching children when partner programs don’t run all summer, likely contributed to the drop. 

States and districts are increasing the amount of recess time for elementary students, including an increase from 20 minutes a day to 30 minutes a day for students in Minneapolis, and a move to one hour a day at Little Elm Independent School District in Texas. 

University of Minnesota researchers found that a meal-planning and nutrition-counseling program was effective in reducing consumption of sugary drinks and decreasing portion sizes, but it was less successful at getting families to eat more fruits and vegetables. The new research follows a study that concluded the program helped children to maintain a healthy weight. The new results suggest that portion size and sugary drinks could be more closely related to childhood obesity than fruit and vegetable consumption.

Student achievement may improve when schools provide lunches from healthy lunch vendors, according to a National Bureau of Economic Research paper. The study found that standardized test scores increased after California school districts contracted with a healthy lunch vendor, with the largest test score improvements among students eligible for free or reduced price lunch. The study did not find that healthier lunches impacted childhood obesity rates.

A decade-long study has found that about 20% of baby food samples have had detectable levels of lead. While each individual sample only contained minute quantities, and all were under the FDA’s maximum acceptable level, the aggregate amount remained significant, especially since recent research shows that there is no safe level of lead.


New Insights

Studies, new research, healthy nutrition and habits

The American Heart Association has recommended against consuming coconut oil. Earlier studies had found that coconut oil had no clear benefits, while also raising LDL (or “bad”) cholesterol in every controlled trial. Earlier weight loss studies that found that medium chain triglycerides, which are relatively more common in coconut oil, may increase metabolism rates, which could be the source of the misconception of coconut oil as healthy.

The American Heart Association released areport on saturated fat and incidences of cardiovascular disease, finding that reducing saturated fat, and replacing it with polyunsaturated vegetable oils, can lead to a 30% reduction in the incidence of cardiovascular disease.

A Harvard study found that 70.3% of families earning under $15,000 a year spend more than half of their income on rent and housing. As a result, families spend less elsewhere, including food or medical care.

According to a recent study, podcasts about Omega-3 oils and their benefits increased long-term consumption of Omega-3 rich foods, indicating that podcasts could be an effective way to teach about healthy diets and nutrition.

John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health researchers examined physical activity levels among different age groups, and found that teenagers were likely to get as little exercise as seniors.

A new study out of South Korea found that sleeping in on weekends may help people maintain a lower weight. The researchers found that people who got more hours of sleep per night on weekends than on weekdays had an average BMI of 22.8, compared to 23.1 for those who slept about the same number of hours throughout the week.


Innovative Models, Med Tech, and Wearables

Following last week’s news that Amazon would acquire Whole Foods, the Wall Street Journalreported that 62% of Whole Foods shoppers are also Amazon Prime members, which gives Amazon an opportunity to access data on how customers shop in Whole Foods’ brick-and-mortar stores.

In other Amazon/Whole Foods news, Civil Eats examines how the deal could impact the shift toward healthy and sustainable food in the retail sector, increase access to healthy food, and transform the food system by sourcing from sustainable farms.

A new survey suggests that 6% of healthcare professionals are currently using data from patients’ wearables, and most providers were using the data to better engage patients and set activity goals. More than half of the respondents were unsure if their organizations planned to use data from wearables in the future.

Apple is reportedly working with the startup Health Gorilla to incorporate diagnostic data from blood work and lab tests into the iPhone. This information, if stored on a patient’s phone, could provide doctors with a holistic picture of a patient’s medical history using data spread across third-party labs, primary care groups, and specialists.

“The Human Project” is beginning recruitment for a large-scale research endeavor to gather personal and biomedical data from 10,000 New Yorkers over 20 years. For this $15-million-a-year project, researchers at New York University plan to collect data from blood tests, genetic tests, IQ tests, cellphone data, and financial and educational records -- which they hope can provide insight into the links between health, behavior, and a person’s environment.

Nestle has had some big news in the past week, including announcing that it may plan to sell its U.S. confectionery business following a strategic review; leading a recent investment round for fresh and healthy meal delivery startup Freshly; and partnering with Rabobank and RocketSpace to support food and agriculture startups in the Terra Food + Ag Tech Accelerator program.


Clean Labels/Natural and Safe Products/Circular Economy   

Danone launched its new tagline “One Planet. One Health” as part of its response to a consumer shift toward healthier food and social responsibility. Danone CEO Emmanuel Faber noted that big food companies will lose consumers if they do not address social issues such as obesity, inequality, and climate change.

A recent study suggests that commonly cited measures of food waste in the U.S. (e.g., $165 billion worth of food a year, 35 million tons of food a year) are inaccurate and overstated. The researchers note that that varying definitions of “food waste” lead to contradictory estimates and result in differing policy conclusions.

The Sustainable Restaurant Group in Portland, Oregon released information on the operation and supply chain carbon emissions of restaurants they own. Customers can track a particular restaurant’s carbon footprint and compare it with similar restaurants. 

NPR reports on businesses focused on selling humanely caught and treated seafood, noting that the group behind the “Certified Humane” label is actively developing standards for several species of fish. The article notes that Whole Foods stopped selling live lobsters in their stores in 2006 over concerns of how the lobsters were raised and treated.


Philanthropic Updates and Grants

The James Beard Foundation announced the 2017 recipients of the James Beard Foundation Leadership Awards to recognize leaders in the sustainability, food access, and public health spheres influencing how, why, and what Americans eat. Winners include Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME) for her support of national healthy food policies.

The California Food is Medicine Coalition will receive $6 million in state funding over three years to pilot a program to deliver personalized meals to low-income residents living with heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. The meals would be tailored to meet the nutritional and medical needs of each person.

Fitbit has partnered with two DC-based fitness instructors to launch a free “Fitbit Local” event series in DC. The events will include boot camps and yoga classes throughout the summer.



A new survey has revealed that the average teenager consumes about $51,790 worth of foodbetween the ages of thirteen and nineteen. According to the survey, parents spend on average $143 buying food for their teens every week. However, the USDA calculates that a two-income household spends less than $33,068 over the same period, indicating that the parents in the survey may have overestimated their spending.

The Washington Post reports that despite decreasing rates of smoking among Americans in general, smoking rates among less-educated people remain high -- at more than 40% -- emphasizing the socioeconomic disparities in tobacco use.

The New York Times gives readers an inside look at Gwyneth Paltrow’s “In Goop Health” event.