Wellness Weekly: A Snapshot of the Top News in Wellness

Policy and Politics

An overview of relevant policy, regulatory, and political events

In an op-ed published in AdWeek this week, First Lady Michelle Obama reflected on her efforts to address childhood obesity and promote healthy living during her husband’s time in office. The article notes the ways in which advertising campaigns, such as the Partnership for a Healthier America’s “FNV” commercials and the Produce Marketing Association’s “eat brighter” partnership with Sesame Street, have helped kids and families develop habits of eating well.

On Thursday, the Senate Appropriations Committee advanced its first health funding bill in seven years. The $162 billion bipartisan bill provides funding increases for federal research and anti-opioid programs, including a $2 billion budget increase for the National Institutes of Health.

New York City began enforcing its sodium labeling rule this week. The rule, approved in court at the end of May, requires chain restaurants to warn diners of any dishes that contain more than the recommended daily maximum of 2,300 milligrams.

The Philadelphia City Council passed a 1.5 cent per ounce tax on soda and other sugary drinks. The measure includes taxes on both sugar-sweetened and diet drinks, and is projected to bring in more than $90 million per year, which Mayor Jim Kenney intends to spend on universal Pre-K initiatives. A final council vote will be held next week.


Children and youth

Keeping the K-12 population fit and eating well

University of Illinois professor Emma Mercier has developed an app, Food for Thought, that allows users to track the carbon footprint of each food item in a meal. Mercier designed the app to make children more aware of the causes and impacts of climate change, and to provide data to help them evaluate their food decisions.

Surgeons are seeing an increase in young baseball players with damaged ulnar collateral ligaments (UCL) in the elbow, an injury that results from overuse. A study in the American Journal of Sports Medicine found that older teens received this surgery significantly more than any other age group, and that the rates of surgeries among 15-19-year-old patients were increasing more than 9% each year. Some doctors and leaders in youth sports urge that children play multiple positions and/or different sports to develop different muscle groups and avoid exactly this situation.


New insights

Studies, new research, healthy nutrition and habits

A new study from Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab found that restaurant lighting affects the kind of food that diners choose to order. Study participants dining in a well-lit environment ordered 16 percent to 25 percent healthier food than those dining in a dimly lit room. Researchers attributed the results to participants feeling more alert - and thus more likely to make forward-thinking decisions - when in a brighter setting.

In response to changing consumer habits, General Mills plans to debut several new products that reflect a shift towards creating breakfast products more easily consumed on the go. As cereal sales decline and snack bar and yogurt revenues increase, the company will be rolling out single-serving pouches, more breakfast bars, and new cereals that don’t require milk.

A study published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found that in 2011-2014, the prevalence of obesity in U.S. children and adolescents age 2-19 was 17 percent, while the prevalence of extreme obesity during the same years was almost 6 percent-- and increase over the last 25 years.

JAMA also published an obesity study this week on U.S. adults, revealing a significant increase in obesity among women in between 2005 and 2014. The study also found that women with more than a high school education were significantly less likely to be obese, men who smoked were more likely to be obese, and men and women who identified as black or Hispanic had the highest overall obesity prevalences.

In the wake of the FDA’s revised food labels that debuted last month, the New York Times asked experts to weigh in on common questions about sugar and its effects on health.

In a randomized controlled study of obese or overweight adults in Spain, participants who ate a diet high in healthy fats from nuts and olive oil lost more weight than those who ate a low-fat diet or participated in a control group. The researchers conclude that the results support advice to not restrict the intake of healthy fats for weight loss purposes.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service, Americans consumed almost twice as much honey on average per person in 2014 as they did in 1990 (0.9 pounds consumed on average per person in 2014 compared to 0.5 pounds in 1990). The rise in honey consumption coincides with a decrease in American per capita consumption of caloric sweeteners, as well as an overall decline in domestic net production of honey.

NPR this week interviewed neuroscientist and author Sandra Aamodt, author of Why Diets Make Us Fat, which explains how exercise and “health-affirming activities” promote health and well-being while dieting, perhaps counterintuitively, can lead to weight gain. In place of dieting, Aamodt promotes mindful eating, regular exercise, stress reduction, and healthy food choices.


Innovative models, med tech and wearables

Economists have long presumed that new technology goes hand-in-hand with increased productivity, but that has not been the case in healthcare, according to the New York Times. While the majority of hospitals and doctors’ offices have shifted to electronic health records, their new data systems have yet to have a significant effect on the cost and quality of care. A related article in Forbes argues that health technology should make its way out of the hospital and into the grocery store, where it can have a greater impact on day-to-day consumers.

At Fitbit’s Captivate Summit this week, the wearable maker announced the launch of its “Group Health” program, which will provide software and services for corporate wellness, weight management, insurance, and health research. Fitbit also introduced Wellness Insighter, which provides data to Group Health corporate customers to help them gauge the effectiveness of their workplace wellness programs.

The first study of “maximalist” running shoes, which provide up to three times more foam padding than traditional running shoes, suggests that they do not help runners with endurance or stamina - but they don’t hurt, either.

Food delivery startups brought in a record amount of smart money venture funding in Q1 2016, despite concerns that the market is overcrowded. BigBasket, an online grocery store based in India, and DoorDash, a restaurant delivery service, led the quarter, each bringing in over $100 million from top VC firms. The number and size of deals in the food delivery industry has increased steadily since 2012.


Natural products, sustainability, and environment

The American diet might include more kelp in the foreseeable future. American entrepreneurs have begun harvesting edible seaweed and selling it both at retail and at restaurants. The hope is to diversify the infrastructure in seafaring communities while growing a crop that’s healthy for the ocean - research shows that kelp can help protect and restore stressed sea habitats.

The Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of the Inspector General called out the FDA in an alert, saying that the agency’s recall process is so slow that it puts consumers at risk. The alert shared the preliminary findings of a review of 30 voluntary recalls reported between October 2012 and May 2015, and found that, in some cases, recalls for potentially harmful products were not initiated until months after the agency became aware of the danger.

The Organic Trade Association (OTA) has proposed a new label, “USDA Certified Transitional,” for farmers who are working to switch to organic. The OTA hopes this will encourage more farmers to transition by allowing them to charge premium prices for their produce while they progress in the three-year process required for organic certification from the Department of Agriculture. The USDA, however, has yet to approve the label.

At the Global Green Growth Forum (3Gf) Summit in Copenhagen this week, a partnership of international groups, including the World Resources Institute, Consumer Goods Forum, and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, launched the first ever global standard for measuring and managing food loss and waste.


Philanthropic Updates and Grants

Epic Foundation, a free online philanthropic platform, went live earlier this year. The foundation, focused on child-welfare charities, seeks to help philanthropists identify which charities will use their money best. Epic Foundation vets applicant charities and then provides an easily accessible platform to connect them to donors. These donors can then receive status updates on the charity and track the return on their investment in real time.

The USDA awarded nearly $17 million in grants to help increase access to healthy foods for SNAP participants. The funding will be given to nearly 30 nonprofits and state organizations for community-based initiatives to provide fruits and vegetables for SNAP households. Among the winners is Wholesome Wave, which received $500,000 to create a nutrition incentive program in Connecticut and Vermont.

On Monday, the NB3 Foundation received a $2.4 million grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to support Native childhood obesity prevention in the Southwest. The grant will fund initiatives to encourage Native children ages 0-8 to drink water instead of sugary sweetened beverages.

At this week’s Forbes 400 Summit on Philanthropy, Bill Gates announced his goal of increasing the number of West African households that have chickens from 5% to 30% within five years. The idea is to increase both nutrition and income levels - chickens sell for about $5 in Africa, and a farmer could grow a yearly flock worth $1,250 from a “starter kit” of three hens and a rooster. Currently, his foundation invests $400 million per year in its livestock programs.

Through its Producer Loan Program, Whole Foods has given $20 million in loans to 252 local food companies and farmers in U.S. and Canada over the past ten years. With average loans around $65,000, the grocery-chain provides local providers with seed money to develop new products which Whole Foods then can shelve.



Sam Kass, President Obama’s former Senior Policy Advisor for Nutrition Policy, recently discussed a wide range of food-related developments, including sodium reduction targets and GMO labeling, in an interview with Politico.

Low-fat avocados (“slimcados”) are coming to grocery stores this month. They’re bigger than California’s Hass avocado but have a different taste that is drawing criticism from many consumers.

The Clif Bar Family Foundation produced a new - and definitely not PG - cartoon ad to promote organic seeds. The protagonist, “Mr. Seed,” bashes chemical companies for reducing the nutrients in more than three dozen crops. The ad warns that it is not suitable for children and “may be offensive to agrichemical execs.”