Wellness Weekly: A Snapshot of the Top News in Wellness

Policy and Politics

An overview of relevant policy, regulatory, and political events

Over the past week, Senate Republicans have made multiple attempts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The GOP’s most comprehensive bill was voted down on Tuesday night. Early Friday morning, the Senate voted down another attempt known as the “skinny repeal” of the ACA that would have eliminated the individual and employee mandates and medical devices tax that underpin the ACA. A few members of the Senate Freedom Caucus and President Trumphave indicated that they will continue to try to find a way to replace the ACA. 

Public health advocates are criticizing Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald, the newly appointed head of the CDC, for accepting a $1 million donation from the Coca-Cola company to fund a childhood obesity initiative while serving as Georgia’s health commissioner. The program, Power Up 30, focused on increasing physical activity, rather than improving nutrition. Dr. Fitzgerald has responded that Coca-Cola had no impact on any of her programs, and maintains that if it passes the standard CDC review process, she would accept Coca-Cola donations again.

Philadelphia’s 1.5-cent-per-ounce tax on sugar-sweetened beverages generated less revenue than anticipated in fiscal year 2017, according to city officials. While initially projected to bring in about $46 million, expectations were later revised down to $39.7 million, but the tax-generated revenue still came up short with only $39.3 million. 

 

Children and Youth

Keeping the K-12 population fit and eating well

Between 2008 and 2016, the percentage of the top fifty restaurant chains that sell beverages with added sugar to children has fallen from 93% to 74%. Even among the restaurants that do offer sugary drinks, the amount of water and plain milk sold to children has increased, displacing sales of sodas, juices, and high fat and flavored milks.

If schools prohibit flavored milk to reduce sugar intake, students will switch to plain milk, a new study finds. The study also found that the availability of 100% juice drinks was associated with a 16-percentage point decrease in students choosing milk. Researchers also tested four different behavioral economic interventions, such as automatically placing a milk carton on a student’s tray, but found they all had no significant effect on milk selection.

The State of West Virginia is considering changes to their Standards for School Nutrition, which have not been fully updated since 2008. The proposed policy revisions would align with federal child nutrition standards such as the handling of outstanding school meal debt and restrictions on food brought into schools for classroom celebrations. If approved by the State Board of Education, the policy changes could go into effect as early as August 10.

The San Francisco Unified School District is using $20 million raised from municipal bonds torenovate five to six kitchens to serve as “hubs” where food can be prepared from scratch for schools in the district. The kitchens will also have classroom space where staff can learn about healthy eating and cooking.

A recent project called the Massachusetts Childhood Obesity Research Demonstration found that holistic, community-wide interventions were effective in reducing obesity among adolescents and in increasing consumption of water over sugary beverages. However, the project found that such interventions were ineffective in increasing physical activity and getting children to eat more fruits and vegetables.

A University of New Hampshire study found that when school cafeterias used a novel rating system to demonstrate how healthy its offerings were, the percentage of students who thought that their cafeteria provided easy-to-find healthy options increased, even though the food offerings did not change. Students were also more likely to choose the healthier options, although the effect was secondary to considerations like price, appearance, and taste.

Students can get virtual checkups from their school nurse’s office through new telemedicine programs that use sophisticated electronic instruments such as computer-connected stethoscopes that allows doctors to check heartbeats. The programs have provided access to doctors for students without regular access to health care services. However, a shortage of school nurses hampers these programs, which rely on school nurses to facilitate the virtual doctor visits.

 

New Insights

Studies, new research, healthy nutrition and habits

A review of interventions to increase water consumption and reduce the intake of sugar-sweetened beverages suggest that home-based interventions were more effective than school-based interventions for children. Interventions targeting adolescents and adults experienced only resulted, on average, in small reductions in the consumption of sugary drinks.

A recent study has found that people who believe they are exercising less than others in their age group are more likely to die earlier or suffer health problems, regardless of their weight, health status, or any other metric. This creates the counterintuitive possibility that workout programs using “scare tactics” actually lead to negative health outcomes.

The CDC released its National Diabetes Statistics Report, stating that 9.4% of the US population has diabetes, while another 26.1% has prediabetes. While these numbers have held constant over the last few years, the financial costs and health burdens of diabetes have increased while awareness remains low, prompting the American Medical Association to release a quiz helping people determine whether they’re at risk for prediabetes.

Having a sugary drink alongside a high-protein meal may cause people to burn fewer calories and store more excess fat than having the protein alone, according to researchers. Because sugar is easier to burn than fat, the body may burn the calories in the sugary drink first, thus storing most of the fat for later and increasing weight gain. 

A new study found that home nurse visits for women, starting during pregnancy and continuing through their child’s second birthday, were shown to increase the child’s cognitive skills and socio-emotional development, especially among boys. These developmental increases were shown to persist until the child’s twelfth birthday. The effects may be especially pronounced for lower-income families, as the study tracked the effects of a program that targeted low-income, single teen mothers in Memphis, Tennessee.

Eating a healthy diet and exercising while pregnant benefit may not only expectant mothers’ mood and weight, but it may also reduce the chance of needing a C-section by about 10%. These habits could also reduce the risk of getting diabetes while pregnant by 24%, according to a recent study.

 

Innovative Models, Med Tech, and Wearables

The City of New York recently released an app that allows users to upload pictures of documents to apply for food stamps. The application process currently requires a number of documents and meetings with caseworkers, but the new app, Access HRA Mobile, streamlines the process. It has enabled applicants to upload over one million documents since June and has reduced hearings for people who have been denied food stamps by about half.

Park City, Utah, recently launched the first all-electric bike share in the U.S. The program currently includes 88 “e-bikes” that have an electric motor capable of maintaining a top speed of 14 miles per hour for 60 miles. The bike share has nine charging stations throughout the city, and it costs $2 for a 45-minute ride, although weekly, monthly, and annual passes are also available.

Google, in a partnership with the World Resources Institute, has been developing new lunch options with less meat for their employees to reduce the company’s carbon footprint. The tech giant has also been trying to “nudge” its employees to choose more plant-based options by making small but intentional changes to menus, such as by putting vegetarian options first or using names that play down a food’s meatless-ness. 

 

Clean Labels/Natural and Safe Products/Circular Economy   

A recent review examined how “natural” food is defined by over 85,000 consumers from 32 countries. While the study concluded that there is no consensus on what standards “natural” foods should be held to, potential agreement seemed to coalesce around three factors: the food’s origin, how it’s produced, and the properties of the final product. But however it is defined, naturalness is taken seriously by consumers, and will often influence purchasing decisions.

A Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) and Food Policy Action survey on food date labels(e.g., best by, best if used by) found that 40% of U.S. consumers have had arguments in their households on whether to keep food longer than the label dates. GMA is advocating for a voluntary initiative to streamline all labels to use “BEST If Used By” and reduce confusion.

Several products made by Ben & Jerry’s, a popular ice cream brand, were found to contain glyphosphate, the main ingredient in Monsanto’s widely used Roundup herbicide. While the levels of the chemical were well below regulatory limits, Ben & Jerry’s has promised to avoid the chemical as much as possible, pointing out that none of its plant-based ingredients use genetically modified organisms.

 

Philanthropic Updates and Grants

The Partnership for a Healthier America named Nancy Roman as the next President and CEO. She currently serves as the President and CEO of the Capital Area Food Bank in DC, though her career has spanned journalism, business, and public service with the U.S. and United Nations. Roman will start September 5.

Wal-Mart and the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research gave a $1.3 million grant to the World Wildlife Fund to research agricultural practices that can increase the amount of crops both harvested and delivered.

Duke University, the William R. Kenan, Jr. Charitable Trust, and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation together gave $5.9 million to establish the World Food Policy Center at the Duke Sanford School of Public Policy. The Center will be used to conduct research, educational outreach, and conferences to create a collaborative approach to food policy.

The federal Fresh Fruits and Vegetables Program (FFVP) awarded $5 million to the state of Illinoisto serve students more fruits and vegetables as healthy snacks. The program, which is designed to foster lifelong healthy habits, is administered by the Food and Nutrition Service, a division of the USDA.

 

Other

According to a new study, walking the dog can bring significant health benefits for seniors. The study found that older adults with dogs get an average of thirty minutes more physical activity per day than those without pets. Furthermore, older dog owners are more active on days with poor weather than non-dog owners are, even on warm summer days. 

An Australian court will hear a lawsuit from the advocacy group Australian Competition and Consumer Commission demanding that a fruit snack manufactured by Heinz be marketed as a confectionary. The snacks, which contain 68.7 grams of sugar per 100 grams of product, are currently marketed as healthy alternatives to real fruits and vegetables, which Heinz claims is an appropriate practice.