Wellness Weekly: A Snapshot of the Top News in Wellness

Policy and Politics

An overview of relevant policy, regulatory, and political events

The Cook County, IL sugar-sweetened beverage tax, whose implementation was delayed by lawsuits, was reinstated last Friday, paving the way for the tax to go into effect on Wednesday. A Cook County Circuit Judge dismissed a suit brought against the measure by the Illinois Retail Merchant Association after determining that the tax did not violate the state constitution. While the Chair of the Cook County Board of Commissioners had announced that around 300 workers would be laid off due to a lack of revenue from the delayed bill, none of the layoffs have occurred yet, although it is unclear how many people will still lose their jobs.

DC City Councilmember Brianne Nadeau introduced a bill that would give all new parents a “baby box” -- a cardboard box with a firm foam mattress -- and access to online training on safe sleeping practices, to reduce the infant mortality rate in the city. Washington, DC currently has the highest infant mortality rate in the country, at 7.6 deaths per 1,000 live births, the majority of which came from unsafe sleeping practices.


Children and Youth

Keeping the K-12 population fit and eating well

FitBits may decrease the amount of adolescent physical activity, researchers from the UK found. Peer comparisons between students found that those students using FitBits reported low confidence and guilty feelings, which reduced motivation to exercise and led participants to report having less “fun” during exercise.

Australian students who consumed vegetables with dinner every night scored higher on standardized tests than those who did not, while those who consumed sugar-sweetened beverages tended to score lower. These findings align with earlier studies that have shown that healthy diets are closely related to student achievement.

Florida recently passed an education bill mandating that schools give students at least twenty consecutive minutes of recess every day, but some parents worry that as important decisions -- such as whether recess occurs outdoors or indoors -- trickle down from the district to the school principals, leaders will make decisions that comply with the law but do not encourage more outdoor free play for students.

A recent study found that children’s snack purchases are influenced by cost only if the child already had experience with using and valuing money. Purchasing behavior was also influenced by whether children liked a given brand or product, rather than simple brand awareness.

A Canadian study examined the connection between alcohol consumption and weight gain among high school students, and found that regular binge drinking may add thousands of additional calories and pounds over the course of a single year, providing a possible explanation for teen obesity rates. 

study found that the rate of moderate hearing loss among teenagers age 12-19 fell to about 15% between 2009 and 2010, from a high of 22.5% two years earlier. Researchers attributed the fall to safer behaviors regarding headphones, but warned that the issue was still a serious concern.


New Insights

Studies, new research, healthy nutrition and habits

The Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, and the USDA released a joint report looking at how communities can harness local food initiatives and resources can increase access to healthy food, improve workforce productivity, and spur economic development in both rural and urban communities. The report also highlights systems that benefit low- and moderate-income households.

A recent study found that implementing a comprehensive obesity curriculum in a medical school program both increased knowledge and understanding of obesity and improved students’ attitudes towards people with the disease.

Wall Street Journal article looks at how different companies are responding to changes in FDA menu labeling standards, and how the Grocery Manufacturing Association is getting caught in the middle. 

A review of studies looking at the effectiveness of self-tracking and eCoaching programs for healthy lifestyle interventions found that programs with certain strategies-- setting short-term goals, personalizing goals, offering encouragement and praise, and sending reminders to input self-tracking data-- provided users with better health outcomes compared to other programs, and made the programs easier to adhere to.

Sugar consumption in men is closely linked to symptoms of depression and other mental health conditions, according to a recent study from the UK. The research, which did not find the same association between women and sugar, indicates a potential link between sugar and mental disorders. The study measured only processed or added sugars. 

Getting less than seven hours of sleep was associated with a greater waist circumference and less good cholesterol, a recent study found, putting those who sleep less at a greater risk of developing obesity. 

The Mediterranean diet, which prioritizes fruits, vegetables, fish, nuts, and whole grains, was found to reduce chances of heart disease and stroke by 60%, but only among participants with higher incomes. The disparity persisted even after accounting for sex, BMI, exercise, access to regular checkups, smoking, and marital status, prompting researchers to conclude that the quality of foods used in the diet, and how they’re prepared, may be as important as the types of food consumed. 

Paying people to go to the gym does not produce much of an effect, according to a recent study. Participants who were compensated more for making at least nine trips to a gym over six weeks averaged only 0.14 more visits than a control group who was compensated a smaller amount regardless of gym attendance.

A report from Blue Cross Blue Shield found that diabetes is growing fastest among millennials, as the 18-34 demographic has seen the largest growth in both the severity of cases and the risk of premature death from diabetes. The trend coincides with rising rates of obesity among younger adults, which has been shown to be a significant risk factor for the disease.


Innovative Models, Med Tech, and Wearables

The U.S. Army is implementing a new “Holistic Health and Fitness” initiative in response to a recent report that found that the army had the highest share of soldiers classified as overweight of all the military branches. The initiative will attempt to replace snacks in vending machines with healthier alternatives, upgrade health and exercise facilities on bases, and provide healthier, more portable meals so that soldiers on the go don’t have to resort to sugary snacks.

The Home Centered Care Institute (HCCI) is partnering with top hospitals to train doctors to perform home-based primary care visits in a new initiative called the HCCI Centers of Excellence. The group says that home visits may reduce medical costs and increase quality of life and care, especially for the elderly or patients with complex health issues.

Civil Eats profiled Fresh Truck, a repurposed school bus that serves as a mobile grocery store bringing fresh fruit and vegetables to low-income communities and food deserts in Boston. Two years ago, Fresh Truck also launched the FreshRX program, in which healthcare providers give low-income participants “prescriptions” for fresh food, which includes a $10 food voucher and a recommended shopping list.

Kroger markets have begun offering Beyond Burger from Beyond Meat, a plant-based burger designed to taste and feel similar to a real burger. Being carried by Kroger has more than tripled the amount of Beyond Burgers sold nationwide.

In other plant-based food news, Impossible Foods, a California-based startup that develops plant-based meat products, raised $75 million in a funding round led by Temasek, with participation from Open Philanthropy, Bill Gates, Khosla Ventures, and Horizon Ventures. The company plans to use the funding to expand its operations and bring its products, like the Impossible Burger, to more markets across the U.S. 

Viome, a new startup that uses AI and machine learning to analyze people’s microbiomes and make personalized dietary recommendations, raised $15 million in a Series A funding round led by Khosla Ventures, with participation from Bold Capital Partners.


Clean Labels/Natural and Safe Products/Circular Economy   

In the second quarter of 2017, plant-based beauty brand Yes To raised more investment funding than any other beauty startup. Analysts report that early-stage beauty and grooming companies have been growing in recent years due to consumer demand for plant-based and customized products.

Carolina Innovative Food Ingredients, a food manufacturer, released a new sweetener derived from sweet potatoes that could replace high fructose corn syrup. The new syrup has a similar texture and sweetness, but higher vitamin and mineral content, and is certified as natural, non-GMO, and non-allergenic.

During the past couple of weeks, yogurt and dairy manufacturer Dannon began to ship non-GMO-verified Danimals Smoothie products nationwide. The new labeling is part of Dannon’s pledge to ensure all of its products are GMO-free by the end of 2018. The company worked with both direct suppliers and those further up its supply chain to ensure that its products contained no genetically modified ingredients. 


Philanthropic Updates and Grants

The W. K. Kellogg Foundation launched the Community Food Innovation website last week. The website spotlights community-driven projects that are attempting to improve healthy food access, environmental sustainability, and economic development. The Kellogg Foundation hopes that the site can be used as a resource for communities and grantmaking organizations. Featured projects include the Los Angeles Food Policy Council, DC Central Kitchen School Food Program, and the Minnesota Food Charter.

The HHS Office of Minority Health (OMH) awarded the University of Chicago Medicine a $1.8 million grant to develop a program to help low-income minorities diagnosed with diabetes manage the disease. The program would train staff to manage group visits of 8-10 patients, and partner with the nonprofit Care Message to provide text message reminders and alerts to patients.

A North Carolina Department of Agriculture program is giving $250,000 to small stores in food deserts in the eastern region of the state. The grants will go toward reimbursing stores for expenditures incurred in efforts to provide fresh produce and healthier food options.



USDA issued a proclamation on Thursday recognizing the week of August 6-12 as “National Farmers Market Week,” recognizing the economic benefit of farmers, ranchers, and farmers markets for local communities, and calling on the American people to support local agriculture.  

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) awarded Domino’s the first-ever "Xtreme Putting Profits Before Public Health Award" for the chain’s unhealthy food options and work to delay menu-labeling requirements from going into effect.

As people and states grapple with the growing prevalence and cost of mental health issues, experts argue that exercise as a treatment has been chronically underlooked. Alongside demonstrated benefits to mood, studies have found correlations between mental health and illnesses like obesity and diabetes, indicating that exercise may help patients solve both their immediate and underlying problems.