Wellness Weekly: A Snapshot of the Top News in Wellness

Policy and Politics

An overview of relevant policy, regulatory, and political events

On Tuesday, House Republicans published their draft budget for FY 2018 government spending, which includes a cut of around $10 billion to USDA funding over ten years. While steep, the cuts are significantly less than the $70 billion decrease initially proposed by the House Budget Committee. The Food Research & Action Center noted that the proposed plan also seeks a $150 billion cut to SNAP through “block-grant type structural changes” and a $1.6 billion cut to the Community Eligibility Provision, which provides universal free meals to schools and districts in low-income communities.

A collection of food industry groups sued New York City last Friday to challenge new rules that require businesses selling food to post calorie and nutritional information on menus. The suit alleges that the requirements can only be enforced by the federal government, and thus would be subject to the FDA’s May 2018 deadline to comply with nationwide regulations, thereby rendering unlawful New York’s move to implement the rules on May 22 of this year.

Following last week’s announcement that Cook County, Illinois would begin laying off employees due to a lawsuit blocking its one-cent-per-ounce sugar-sweetened beverage tax, the county has since laid off nearly 300 employees. The number could rise to 1,100, and a circuit judge will hold a hearing on the lawsuit filed by the Illinois Retail Merchant Association on July 21.

Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) re-introduced a bill requiring the labeling of genetically engineered salmon and calling for an independent scientific review of the FDA’s standards on human consumption of genetically engineered fish. The Genetically Engineered Salmon Labeling Act was first introduced in 2016. 

Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-PA) re-introduced the Nutrition Education Act this week, which would require schools participating in the National School Lunch Program to offer at least 50 hours of nutrition education.  The nutrition lessons could be incorporated into other subjects, like science or math.  

 

Children and Youth

Keeping the K-12 population fit and eating well

A new study found that children exposed to placemats with interactive activities featuring healthier menu options before ordering their meals were significantly more likely to choose a healthier meal, although there was no demonstrated impact on what desserts or beverages were ordered.

Playing soccer can improve adolescent boys’ bone density more than swimming or cycling, according to a new study. This supports prior research showing that exercise can promote bone growth in children. 

Fathers’ participation in physical child care (like diaper changing or bathing), as well as their level of participation with children in outdoor activities is correlated with a decreased chance of a child being obese between ages 2 and 4, according to a new study.

 

New Insights

Studies, new research, healthy nutrition and habits

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recently recommended that primary care physicians take an individualized approach to deciding whether their patients would benefit from behavioral counseling to promote healthy eating and physical activity. The statement notes that clinical trials show a small, but significant, reduction in the risk of heart disease from diet and exercise counseling for people who are either overweight or normal-weight. However, the findings were not significant enough for the group to recommend that health insurers cover it as a preventative service, as they do for obese patients.

According to a new study, adults who gained a moderate amount of weight (5 to 22 pounds) before the age of 55 had a higher risk for chronic diseases and premature death compared to adults who maintained a stable weight. For every 11 pounds gained, participants saw a 30% increased risk for Type 2 diabetes, a 14% increased risk for hypertension, and an 8% increased risk for cardiovascular disease.

Harvard public health researchers found that vegan diets may provide fewer health benefits than a diet that includes some meat and animal products. Vegan diets that replace animal products with simple carbs and sugary alternatives can actually increase a person’s risk of cardiovascular disease, while diets rich in fruit, vegetables, and whole grains with modest consumption of meat can be as healthy as a healthy plant-based diet.

Consistently eating healthier foods long-term was associated with a 20% decrease in the risk of premature death in the next twelve years, revealed a new study. Making even slight changes to improve one’s diet was found to have a significant impact on long-term health, while worsening diets were correlated with increased risk of death.

A recent study suggests that, while more strenuous, outdoor hiking is perceived as less strenuousthan a long walk on a treadmill. However, the long walk on the treadmill left participants feeling happier and more relaxed compared to when they spent hours at a time working on a computer or chatting. Researchers suggest that long, brisk walks could be more appealing to some people who do not enjoy the short, high-intensity workout trend.

A recently published pilot study is supporting a biologist’s vision for “scientific wellness,” an approach to improving health and preventing diseases using personalized behavior coaching in combination with DNA and blood testing, activity tracking, and other indicators. The pilot project found that monthly coaching sessions aimed at helped participants understand data and improve their lifestyle led to significant improvements in their vitamin D levels, mercury levels, and prediabetes status.

A recent study examining the relationship between work stress, sleep, and eating junk food found that employees who have a stressful workday are more likely to eat unhealthy food in the evenings. The good news is researchers found that a good night’s sleep improved workers’ ability to manage stress and reduced their vulnerability to unhealthy eating.

Active workstations, such as treadmill desks to keep workers active while performing their normal tasks, were found to have no impact on cognitive ability in a new study that looked at both younger and middle-aged workers. 

 

Innovative Models, Med Tech, and Wearables

Coca-Cola began manufacturing some of its bottles from a plastic derived from sugar cane, rather than petroleum. The company claims that it has produced 35 billion “PlantBottle” packages, avoiding the 315,000 metric tons of CO2 emissions that would have been produced had the bottles been made from traditional, petroleum-based plastic.  

Following Amazon’s acquisition of Whole Foods, the tech giant has applied for several new patents related to food distribution, including a meal-kit service, a “single cow burger,” and snack foods.

General Mills has published a patent that would reduce sugar in the coating of cereal without affecting the cereal’s taste and texture. Current reduced-sugar coatings for cereal tend to result in cereals that lack crispness and “bowl life” -- the length of time cereal can go before becoming soggy.

Plenty, an indoor vertical farming startup, recently raised $200 million. The new funding will support the global rollout of Plenty’s vertical fams, which the company claims can produce 530 times more than a typical field.

 

Clean Labels/Natural and Safe Products/Circular Economy   

A new study found that the processed powdered cheese in packaged macaroni and cheese products contains significant amounts of phthalates, a chemical linked to birth defects in infants, developmental issues in older children, and health risks for pregnant women. While food is not made with phthalates, the chemical migrates from plastics used in packaging and manufacturing techniques, and binds to fats in cheeses. 

On Friday, Campbell Soup Co. announced that it plans to leave the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) by the end of the year due to concerns over the GMA’s stance against the labeling of genetically modified foods. In January 2016, Campbell committed to labeling all of its products that contained genetically modified ingredients and supported labeling policies. 

 

Philanthropic Updates and Grants

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has awarded $6.3 million to 100 Million Healthier Lives, an umbrella effort convened by the Institute for Healthcare Improvement to scale its work to improve the health, wellbeing, and equity of communities through working with community health leaders. The grant will support the population and community health work done by more than 200 communities and more than 500 healthcare organizations.

The Foundation for New York’s Strongest, a part of the City of New York Department of Sanitation, will host its first-ever NYC Food Waste Fair. The “resource-fair-meets-trade-show” will showcase expert panel discussions, workshops, and live demonstrations to offer food waste solutions to local businesses.

An army veteran in New York named Roman Espinoza recently constructed a “Blessing Box” on his front lawn, where people can either donate food and household goods, or take what they need. The project has been overwhelmingly popular in the community, with some members asking him to make boxes for them to host on their property. 

 

Other

A pair of studies have found that drinking coffee is associated with positive health outcomes, such as a reduced risk for death from multiple causes for people who drink between one and three cups a day.

A new book Dirt is Good: The Advantage of Germs for Your Child’s Developing Immune Systemanswers parents’ FAQs about what is good or bad for their child’s health.

NPR takes a deep dive into online medical advice sought through Google Search results.

Preliminary trials suggest that stevia, a common alternative sweetener, could be an effective treatment for tick-borne Lyme disease infections.