Wellness Weekly: A Snapshot of the Top News in Wellness

Policy and Politics

An overview of relevant policy, regulatory, and political events

On Tuesday, Dr. Jerome Adams was sworn in as the 20th U.S. Surgeon General. During his confirmation hearings, Dr. Adams, an anesthesiologist, said he plans to address America’s opioid crisis as well as untreated mental health concerns.

The FDA announced its new Digital Health Entrepreneur-in-Residence Program on Wednesday. The program aims to attract tech- and data-savvy experts from the private sector to help the FDA implement a program to regulate digital health technology by starting at the developer level rather than with a product.

In other FDA news, the agency also announced that it will provide guidance on the delayed menu-labeling requirements by the end of the year. Nationwide implementation is not expected until May 2018.

Meanwhile, New York City has agreed to delay enforcement of its menu-labeling requirements. The decision comes after the FDA offered its support for a lawsuit filed by the Food Marketing Institute, the National Association of Convenience Stores, and their partners, challenging the city for attempting to enforce menu-labeling laws prior to nationwide implementation.


Children and Youth

Keeping the K-12 population fit and eating well

Beginning with this school year, New York City Public Schools will offer free lunch to all of its 1.1 million students. Three-quarters of New York City students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, and all students already receive free breakfast. Boston, Chicago, Detroit, and Dallas also offer lunch at no cost to all students.

In a similar vein, the Houston Independent School District announced that its students will receive free meals for the entire school year in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. However, the details of the program are unclear, as USDA Food and Nutrition Services revealed that they only granted approval for affected students through September. The Texas Department of Agriculture states that this was possible through a series of programs and waivers, including some approved prior to the hurricane.

A recent analysis critiques the efficacy of USDA’s Smarter Lunchrooms intervention approach -- adopted by nearly 30,000 schools -- which “nudges” students to eat more fruits and vegetables. The study, which has not been peer-reviewed, suggests that the approach does not lead to meaningful change in dietary behaviors and that the Cornell University researchers implementing the program have used statistical manipulations to yield results that favor the program.

Los Angeles Unified School District is offering vegan meals for a limited time -- until November 17 -- as a part of a pilot project. The project will offer one vegan item on the menu each day at seven high schools within the district. District representatives will gather feedback to determine next steps.

A recent study found that many U.S. children do not follow childhood obesity prevention guidelines. The study tracked physical activity and meals of 400 preschool children, and found that only one student completely followed the guidelines. This research is a part of the Preschool Eating and Activity Study, which looks at preschools’ influence on physical activity.

A recent study from the University of Toronto finds that physical activity at an early age can have a positive impact on learning and memory in the adult brain.

The New York Times takes a deep dive into how the Trump administration could transform school nutrition. The piece discusses issues ranging from lunch shaming to rolling back nutrition standards put in place during President Obama’s time in office.


New Insights

Studies, new research, healthy nutrition and habits

A recent report released by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Trust for America’s Health finds that 1 in 3 American adults, and 1 in 6 children, are obese. The highest obesity rate, 37.7%, was found in West Virginia, with Mississippi a close second at 37.3%.

A new study suggests that a low-carb diet is more effective than a low-fat diet in reducing fat found around the heart and waist circumference. Meanwhile, a separate study similarly found that a low-carb, high-fat diet may be better for you. The study found that people who consumed high-carb diets -- in which carbs made up on average 77% of their diet – saw a 28% increased risk of early death. However, according to the latter study high fat consumption -- with fat making up 35% of the daily diet -- correlated with a 23% lower risk of early death and 18% reduced risk of stroke compared to people who ate less fat.

Two new studies suggest that a ketogenic diet, where the body is put into a controlled state of starvation but cutting nearly all carbs, will increase metabolism and lifespan.

Lifestyle factors may influence a person’s genetic risk for diabetes, according to a recent study. Researchers found that changing lifestyle behaviors -- including dietary habits and physical activity -- can help individuals with a strong predisposition for obesity to reduce their genetic risk for obesity.

Contrary to popular belief, new research finds that high levels of “good” cholesterol may increase risk of mortality. The authors recommend that, for now, doctors should not encourage an increase in “good” cholesterol (HDL), but focus on lowering “bad” cholesterol (LDL).

There are 41.2 million people considered food insecure in the U.S., according to a new USDAreport. The number is a decline of 2.4% from 2015 and is at its lowest point since 2007, whichBloomberg attributed to falling unemployment rates and stronger child nutrition programs.

Researchers recently found that people who ate more than 2.5 teaspoons of salt per day significantly increased their risk for heart failure, compared to “low-salt” consumers. According to the study, the risk for heart failure increased as salt intake increased.

For young women, performing five minutes of low-impact cardio right after a learning session canimprove memory and support in retaining the material they are learning. The same effect was not found with men. The researchers suggest their data may make the case for recess and physical activity breaks in schools.


Innovative Models, Med Tech, and Wearables

In recent years, major brands, including Facebook, Hyatt, and Weight Watchers, have beenacquiring fitness tech startups -- companies that leverage software and tech to support users to maintain physical fitness. These can range from mobile workout apps and  wearables to augmented and virtual reality.

With more than 165,000 health and fitness apps available, new research suggests that mobile apps to help diabetes patients manage their condition need to be carefully reviewed for information, quality, and the number of diabetes-specific management tasks in the app. 

A lab at San Francisco State University has teamed up with a virtual reality entrepreneur to test virtual reality games as a means for aerobic exercise. Through the Virtual Reality Institute of Health and Exercise website, the team will showcase fitness ratings for various games and allow game makers to submit products for the group to review.

Amy’s, the popular vegetarian, organic food brand, plans to create a chain of its fast-food restaurant Amy’s Drive Thru. The chain will begin by expanding in northern California, where its only restaurant is currently based, before making plans to establish locations across the country.

A keychain-sized device developed at Harvard Medical School claims to test food for common allergens -- including peanuts, hazelnuts, wheat, milk, and eggs -- within 10 minutes. The iEAT device is currently priced at $40, though single-use slides where the food is placed will add to the overall cost.

Aifloo, a Swedish brand that sells “smart” wristbands for seniors, raised €5.1 million (approximately $6.1 million) in a Series A funding round. The device uses sensors and AI to monitor the wearer’s behaviors and alert caregivers of potential concerns, including trips or falls and changes in eating and sleep behaviors.


Philanthropic Updates and Grants

On Wednesday, the Chef Ann Foundation launched the School Food Institute, which offers online educational videos to teach school food service professionals how to transition to cooking from scratch. Courses start on October 16 with eight professional development courses that cover topics including school food operations, marketing and lunchroom education, finance, and recipe and menu development. A major grant from the Colorado Health Foundation contributed to the creation of the new initiative.

SHAPE America, the Society of Health and Physical Educators, announced Stephanie A. Morrisas its new CEO. Morris was previously the deputy executive director of the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) and has also served in an executive role with the American Council on Education. She will begin her new position on October 2.

AdWeek lists how brands are contributing to the Hurricane Harvey relief efforts. Amazon-Whole Foods is matching donations made to the American Red Cross through its website, up to $1 million. PepsiCo pledged $1 million to the American Red Cross from the PepsiCo Foundation. Walmart has shipped 795 truckloads of supplies to Texas, most of which are filled with water.

The Los Angeles-based Cedars-Sinai Medical Center awarded $4.8 million in grants to local nonprofits that address the physical and mental health care needs of the homeless, at-risk youth, and immigrants.

The NIH recently awarded the Maine Medical Center Research Institute with a 5-year, $11 million grant to establish a research center that focuses on metabolic diseases, including obesity, diabetes, and osteoporosis.



Quartz piece explores how “wellness” trends may be contributing to a new type of eating disorder, orthorexia, that involves “obsessive thinking, compulsive behavior, self-punishment, and escalating restriction” that can often be concealed from others. The disorder has not been listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association (DSM-5).

A Funny or Die video pokes fun at healthy eating recommendations and trends with a sketch involving a time-traveling dietitian.