Wellness Weekly: A Snapshot of the Top News in Wellness

Policy and Politics

An overview of relevant policy, regulatory, and political events

The Farm to School Act of 2017, introduced last week by Reps. Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) and Marcia Fudge (D-OH) in the House, asks for an additional $10 million dollars annually for USDA’s Farm to School Grant Program. The bill would also expand the program to include preschools, summer food service sites, and after school programs, as well as expand access for tribal schools to farm-fresh and traditional foods. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS) introduced a companion bill in the Senate.

On Wednesday, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) unveiled legislation to establish a single-payer health care system. The Medicare for All Act of 2017 would include a four-year transition period to cover all adults, beginning with covering all children and adults over 55, and then expand to individuals aged 35 to 45 before rolling out to everyone in the fourth year. The bill does not offer a specific funding plan, but is accompanied by a list of funding proposals, including increasing payroll tax on employers or increasing individual income taxes.

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine released a congressionally mandated report on redesigning the process that establishes Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which are scheduled to be updated again in 2020. The report makes five recommendations: enhancing transparency; promoting diversity of expertise and experience; supporting a deliberative process; managing biases and conflicts of interest; and adopting state-of-the-art processes and methods.

On Friday, in anticipation of negotiations around the 2018 Farm Bill, the Bipartisan Policy Center launched the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Task Force, which will be led by three co-chairs: former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) and two former secretaries of agriculture, Dan Glickman (1995-2001) and Ann Veneman (2001-2005). The group will explore federal and state policy recommendations related to SNAP and other federal programs that aim to improve health, reduce health care costs, and combat poor nutrition.


Children and Youth

Keeping the K-12 population fit and eating well

Results from a preliminary study suggest that urban youth with greater access to parks or other green spaces have fewer symptoms from severe asthma compared to their peers. For every 1,000 additional feet children lived from a park, children exhibited more asthma symptoms over a two-week period.

A new study suggests that a nutrition education curriculum taught in elementary schools can be both an effective and cost-effective intervention for reducing childhood obesity. Researchers studied the effects of a nutrition education curriculum taught to all New York City fifth-graders over one year, and estimated that the intervention would result in 289 fewer males and 350 fewer females becoming obese, and save more than $8 million in direct medical costs.


New Insights

Studies, new research, healthy nutrition and habits

Research in rats suggests that higher levels of fitness may help protect against breast cancer. Thestudy revealed that rats with lower fitness levels were four times more likely to develop breast cancer compared to rats with higher fitness levels. Researchers also noted that rats with higher fitness levels were better able to control cell division processes; unchecked cell division is a common marker for cancer.

study found that adults 45 and older with higher amounts sedentary time and who experience longer periods of sedentariness at a time have an increased risk of mortality. Researchers recommend physical activity to reduce and interrupt sedentary time to reduce risk of death. 

The 2017 Cancer Progress Report from American Association for Cancer Research found that cancer deaths among children have fallen 35% between 1991 and 2014, and cancer deaths among adults fell by 25% during the same period. However, the report estimates that cancer cases will continue to rise, from 1.7 million in 2017 to 2.3 million in 2030. The report also noted that new cancer therapies are coming to market, and that the direct medical costs of cancer reached $87 billion in 2014 in the U.S. alone.

Bureau of Labor Statistics data suggests that retail food prices have dropped significantly in the past 19 months, most notably for beef, eggs, and dairy. The extended period of low prices can be attributed to lower energy and transportation costs, as well as less demand leading to an excess in supply.

The Global Burden of Disease study, published in The Lancet, revealed that the top three risk factors for premature death globally were high blood pressure, poor diet, and tobacco use. Poor diet, alone, was a risk factor for one in five global deaths. The study also found that 72% of all deaths last year were caused by non-communicable diseases, including diabetes and cardiovascular or heart disease.

A recent analysis suggests that the monetary benefits offered through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) may not be enough to support a diet that aligns with USDA’s MyPlate dietary guidelines. The monthly cost for a family of four for consuming a MyPlate diet ranged from $1,109 to $1,249 per month.


Innovative Models, Med Tech, and Wearables

Apple is partnering with Stanford and the telemedicine company American Well on the Apple Heart Study -- an experiment to test whether Apple’s new Series 3 Watch is able to detect abnormal heart rhythms and diagnose heart problems. The watch has a new heart rate monitor, which will track data such as post-workout recovery heart rate and abnormal spikes in resting heart rate.

Meanwhile, Fitbit announced a partnership with Dexcom, which develops continuous glucose-monitoring technology for people with diabetes. Fitbit watches will soon be compatible with Dexcom’s sensors, which are embedded just below the skin and track blood sugar levels, providing regular five-minute updates to users. The new function is expected to be rolled out in 2018.

In other wearable news, Huawei and Samsung are partnering with other tech companies to bringmore health-monitoring capabilities to their smart watches. The anticipated new functions include more accurate heart rate monitoring, alert systems that let family members or caregivers know of potential health concerns, and tracking vitals of elderly or infirm wearers.

In an effort to get consumers to purchase more frozen vegetables, Green Giant is rolling out a new frozen line of spiralized vegetables in supermarkets nationwide in January. This new line follows other products -- including riced and mashed cauliflower -- that cater to consumers who want to eat “clean.” Green Giant has seen a $9.4 million increase in sales in the latest quarter as a result of these new items.

Startups are developing mobile apps to support the nearly 43 million Americans benefiting from SNAP. One app, FreshEBT, helps users check their food stamps balance on their phones and organize a budget around local deals through an online shopping list. Other apps are helping potential SNAP beneficiaries navigate the complex, paper-based application process.

TechCrunch details the growing organic baby food business, fueled by parent demand and an increasing number of startups in the baby food market.


Philanthropic Updates and Grants

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) recently announced three calls for applications, including the 2018 Culture of Health Prize, which recognizes communities that have placed a priority on health. RWJF also announced a call for applications for the next cohort of RWJF Health Policy Fellows and a call for proposals for Building Trust and Mutual Respect to Improve Health Care, which will fund research around improving healthcare for vulnerable populations.

Thomas Frieden, former head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, announced the launch of Resolve, a global heath initiative with a focus on heart health and epidemic awareness.Resolve is funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, and the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation, who will be investing $225 million over 5 years. Frieden hopes to save 100 million lives with heart disease and stroke initiatives, as well as helping countries become more prepared for future health crises.

The Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade (OEDIT) is now accepting applications for the Governor’s Healthy Community Award for 2017. The award recognizes communities who work to improve overall wellness while also positively impacting economic outcomes. Communities will be evaluated based on health and wellness excellence, healthy workplaces, community collaboration, and social impact. The deadline for applications is Wednesday, October 25.


Politico takes a deep dive into how climate change is making our food less nutritious.