Wellness Weekly: A Snapshot of the Top News in Wellness

Policy and Politics

An overview of relevant policy, regulatory, and political events

Rep. Bruce Poliquin (R-ME) introduced a bill to amend the federal Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program (FFVP) to "include frozen, canned, pureed, and dried fruits and vegetables."  Similar changes have been introduced before to the program, often led by manufacturers of frozen fruits and veggies, who argue that produce picked at peak season is equal or better in quality to fresh produce picked year round. Poliquin says the proposed legislation is an effort to expand the produce options available to schools and students, but critics say the bill is contrary to the intent of the program. FoodCorps points to earlier experiments in which permitting processed foods resulted in children only having access to less healthy options, as well as a reduction in overall fruit and vegetable consumption.

Senator Jerry Moran (R-KS) introduced a bill that would provide tax credits and grants to fix food deserts across the country. The bill would provide support for the construction of new stores, the expansion of existing stores and food banks, or the establishment of temporary offerings like farmers markets in low-income areas without reliable access to fresh food.

 

Children and Youth

Keeping the K-12 population fit and eating well

While many fast food companies have removed sugary drinks and added healthier options to their online kids’ menus in recent years, more than one-third continue to advertise sugary drinks in the store, a new study found. The fast food chains studied included McDonald’s, Burger King, Subway, Wendy’s, KFC, and Dairy Queen.

Reducing or eliminating sugar, especially fructose, from the diets of overweight children and adults can improve their health in as little as two weeks, a recent study found. Researchers point to the role fructose plays in converting sugar into fat, and the fact that it is largely metabolized in the liver, as potential reasons for its disproportionate impact on health.

The Alliance for a Healthier Generation awarded 323 schools across the U.S. with its "America’s Healthiest Schools" recognition. These schools met a rigorous set of criteria, including meeting or exceeding national school nutrition standards, implementing school-wide wellness policies, offering 60 minutes of physical activity a week, and serving breakfast every morning.

 

New Insights

Studies, new research, healthy nutrition and habits

A recent study found that workers who sit for long periods can reduce their risk for metabolic syndrome, a collection of health issues linked to heart disease and diabetes, by getting sufficient exercise outside of working hours. Getting at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week was enough to reduce subjects’ risk by 50%, the study concluded. Subjects who exercised but did not meet the 150-minute goal still saw lower blood pressure than their peers who did not exercise at all.

The typical adult consumes enough salt each day to potentially cause heart damage, new research suggests. Subjects who consumed more than 3.7 grams of sodium per day -- a group that included more than half of the study’s participants -- were more likely to have an enlarged left ventricle and present signs of muscle strain than those who consumed less salt. However, the study didn’t look at any patients who consumed a very low amount of salt to see whether other factors may have been involved.

A recent study found no evidence that an area’s relative or absolute distances to different types of food outlets have an effect on changes in obesity levels for adults. While this challenges some of the rhetoric behind attempts to eliminate food deserts, the researchers noted that such programs may still provide more equitable access to nutrition and healthy food options, creating value beyond simply trying to reduce obesity.

Babies whose mothers consume more vegetables during pregnancy are more likely to eat vegetables themselves when they switch to solid foods, according to researchers. The researchers hypothesized that eating vegetables while pregnant and nursing changes the flavor of amniotic fluid and breastmilk, making the infant more used to, and accepting of, vegetables later in life. 

Aquatic exercises are just as effective as regular exercises for diabetics, a new study found. The findings are especially heartening as people with diabetes are at a higher risk of problems like joint pain that would prevent them from following traditional exercise regimens, such as jogging or walking.

A review of studies found that Tai Chi, an Asian martial art often practiced as a form of exercise, improved seniors’ balance and reduced their risk of falls, although there was no correlation between practicing Tai Chi and when they experienced their first fall.

Health disparities between Appalachia and the rest of the country have widened over the past twenty years. A new study found that the infant mortality rate is 16% higher in Appalachia than in the rest of the country, while life expectancy is 2.4 years lower. Researchers pointed to higher poverty, lower access to healthcare, and a greater prevalence of risky behaviors like smoking as the leading causes of the discrepancy.

The Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) developed a new tool for mapping Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) beneficiaries at the county level using U.S. Census Bureau data. FRAC’s tool found that while 12% of metro households are food insecure, about 15% of small town and rural households are food insecure, challenging the stereotype that SNAP recipients are concentrated in metro, not rural, areas.

While consuming more water and fresh juice can reduce the risk of type II diabetes in adults, drinking more bottled juice may increase it. Researchers found that every additional daily serving of bottled juice increased the risk of diabetes by 33; as daily servings of water or fresh juice increased, the risk of diabetes fell. 

A study linked employee participation in corporate wellness programs to a 4% increase in productivity, with most of the gains coming from workers who were sick before beginning the program. Researchers calculated that the productivity gains represented a 76.3% ROI for the companies in the study, validating efforts to expand wellness programs elsewhere.

A study found that the risk for having a stroke declined among men between 1993 and 2010, but not for women. While researchers are unsure of the cause of the discrepancy, the findings contradict a common perception of strokes afflicting men more often than women.

Sales at the big three U.S. fast food chains -- McDonald’s, Burger King, and Wendy’s -- grew at a rate of 3% last quarter, meaning that fast food sales grew faster than the U.S. economy as a whole. 

 

Innovative Models, Med Tech, and Wearables

This week, Apple received approval of a patent application for an “Electronic Device That Computes Health Data.” Based on the application, the patent suggests that future Apple devices could be used as health sensors capable of collecting and analyzing biological data -- from body fat percentage to blood pressure readings.

Boston Children’s Hospital announced the launch of a new app to help families manage their children’s care. The app -- which is primarily designed for children with complex medical needs -- is called Caremap, and allows caregivers to track and share several metrics and record information like allergies or scheduled appointments.

Amazon is exploring the use of “microwave assisted thermal sterilization” technology to create food products that do not require refrigeration. The technology, which was initially developed for the U.S. military, promises a shelf-life of one year and ensures that the dish’s natural flavor and texture are retained.

Coca-Cola launched a contest to find a new natural, low-calorie sweetener, offering the winner a $1 million prize. Simultaneously, the company kicked off a call for stories about novel ways to naturally sweeten food and beverages, with one participant winning $100,000. The contests are part of an effort by Coca-Cola to convey an interest in healthy alternatives to sugary drinks, as consumer spending on sugary drinks declines and interest in healthy lifestyles increases.

A new program called Fresh Food for Seniors is bringing bags filled with fresh, local produce to apartment buildings and senior centers throughout New York City this summer. The program is run through GrowNYC and the New York City Department of Aging, and covers residents from Northern Manhattan to Roosevelt Island.

Fitbit announced plans for its second generation of health-oriented wearables, reporting that newer models will be water-resistant, have multi-day battery lives, and GPS tracking. While the price of the new wearables was not disclosed, the CEO announced that the new wearables will also run third-party apps.

 

Philanthropic Updates and Grants

The USDA announced 32 grants totaling $16.8 million to projects aiming to increase fruit and vegetable purchases by recipients of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), such as incentive programs to influence purchasing behavior. The program is operated by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, and the funding is provided by the Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive Program, authorized by the 2014 Farm Bill.

Target announced $14 million worth of grants to youth soccer; $8 million will be given to organizations that seek to increase youth access to the sport, and $6 million will go to the U.S. Soccer Foundation to build 100 new fields across the country by 2020. Applications for the first round of grants are currently being accepted through August 30.

The National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) and The Walt Disney Company awarded 25 grants ranging from $10,000 to $50,000 to projects that aim to increase access to play spaces in local parks for children and families. The grants are part of the “Meet Me at the Park”collaboration between NRPA and Disney, and Disney will provide volunteers for various projects.

Oakland startup Town Kitchen provides disadvantaged and at-risk youth with a rigorous culinary and business training program, followed by employment, to teach them useful skills for future opportunities. The company recently raised $1 million in seed funding to continue its mission; the round was led by the Urban Innovation Fund.

 

Other

Oprah Winfrey is launching a line of healthier takes on comfort foods in partnership with Kraft Heinz. The offerings, which include dishes like mashed potatoes with cauliflower, contain no artificial flavors or coloring. A portion of proceeds will be donated to charities fighting hunger.

An article from Eater examines how Trader Joe’s and other private labels buy their products from large manufacturers, sometimes even selling the same product at a different price.  

Married men weigh an average of three pounds more than their single peers, a study from the UK found. Researchers pointed to more regular meals and social outings, and less incentive to stay fit, as the primary culprits behind the disparity.