Wellness Weekly: A Snapshot of the Top News in Wellness

Policy and Politics

An overview of relevant policy, regulatory, and political events

Last week, Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Bill Cassidy (R-LA) introduced new legislation in a renewed effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The bill would end ACA’s Medicaid expansions, premium tax credits, cost-sharing reduction payments, small business tax credits, and the Basic Health Plan Program starting in 2019. Funds would be redistributed to states with the option to receive a broader Medicaid block grant, which would allow states to waive certain ACA regulations that prohibit insurers from charging higher premiums or deny coverage due to people with pre-existing medical conditions. An analysis of the plan found that 22 million fewer people will have health insurance by 2026 if the bill passes.

On Friday, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) stated that he would not vote for the Graham-Cassidy bill, suggesting that the Senate will not have the necessary 50 votes to pass the bill.

The fight against the Cook County, IL sugar-sweetened beverage tax continues, as a vote to repeal the tax has been delayed until the Cook County Board’s October meeting. The Illinois Food Retailers Association and the Can the Tax Coalition recently released sales data that showedbeverage sales have declined by about 47% since the tax went into effect on August 1. A new poll also found that nearly 85% of registered voters in the county support the repeal of the tax. 

Meanwhile, a recent poll from POLITICO and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found that 57% of Americans support taxing soda and other sugary drinks to raise money for early childhood education and children’s health programs and to address the problem of obesity. Public opinion was divided on whether the purchase of soda and sugary beverages should be banned from Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits purchases, with 47% in favor and 51% opposing. The majority of those polled (63%) also support local school districts deciding their own lunch nutrition standards, while 34% support federal government regulation.

 

Children and Youth

Keeping the K-12 population fit and eating well

School districts in Texas can now create on-site food pantries that store donated food items and surplus cafeteria food for distribution to students, thanks to a senate bill passed in June. While federal law has allowed school districts to donate surplus food to local nonprofits or shelters since 2011, the Texas bill creates a loophole that allows school districts to redistribute those items to students in the school rather than donating them elsewhere.

Beginning in November, McDonald’s Happy Meals will be serving organic apple juice made by Honest Kids as a beverage option. The drink replaces traditional juice that also contains more sugar.

Panera, meanwhile, just launched a new kids’ menu that offers smaller sizes of all entree items, which includes 250 items free of artificial ingredients. Kids’ meals toys are also notably missing from the menu, and CEO Ron Shaich has said that he believes marketing to kids should be off limits.

A survey found that teens with diabetes are especially prone to eating disorders and body dissatisfaction, with 88% of females reporting that they wanted to be thinner, and 76% of males expressing some form of body dissatisfaction.

Just over 30 percent of young people in the United States are overweight or obese, according to the most recent National Survey of Children’s Health. Public health advocates were optimistic that obesity rates have remained relatively steady, but stressed the importance of maintaining existing school nutrition standards to keep rates from increasing further.

 

New Insights

Studies, new research, healthy nutrition and habits

A new study from the UK found that metabolically healthy obese people -- those who maintain low cholesterol levels and blood pressure and do not have diabetes -- are more likely to develop coronary heart disease, experience heart failure, and suffer strokes. The findings contradict other recent research showing that the risk factors of metabolically healthy obesity are similar to those of healthy weight.

Standing up every half hour and moving around may reduce the risk of premature death by as much as 55%, according to a new study. The research found that sitting for more than 90 minutes doubled subjects’ risk for premature death, and that the combination of long bouts of sitting with a high total amount of time spent sitting per day represented the highest risk factor for death. 

An Australian study found that artificial sweeteners can increase people’s risk of diabetes in as little as two weeks. The study, which gave participants artificial sweeteners every day, found that subjects’ glucose absorption, blood glucose, insulin, and gut peptides all saw increased activity after only two weeks, indicating that artificial sweeteners can impact the body’s ability to regulate sugar within a very short time frame. 

Researchers from Duke University found that replacing one daily serving of red meat with fish canreduce a person’s risk for type 2 diabetes by 26%, while replacing poultry with fish reduces diabetes risk by 22%, although there was no change from switching from red meat to poultry. The study pointed to the iron content of red meat as a potential cause for the increased risk of diabetes.

The American Institute for Cancer Research released a report stating that 47% of colorectal cancer cases could be prevented by lifestyle changes. Limiting smoking and alcoholic consumption, as well as regular aspirin usage, were found to be among the most effective preventative measures. Eating red or processed meat, and consuming less than 100 grams of non-starchy vegetables and fruits per day, were similarly suggestively shown to be negative factors for colorectal cancer.

According to the results of a new study, older Americans were 14 percent more likely to report good health in 2014 compared to 2000. However, the study also revealed significant health disparities based on race, income, and education, with white, wealthy, and well-educated seniors showing dramatically better improvements than other groups.

Australian researchers have found that two-week diet breaks may help increase weight loss. The study follows previous research indicating that intermittent diets may be equally effective, or even more so, than continuous ones.

A new United Nations report suggests that hunger affects more than 800 million people worldwide, the first increase after a decade of steady decline. The report attributes the change to increased instances of both violent conflict and climate change-related phenomena around the world. 

 

Innovative Models, Med Tech, and Wearables

A team of graduate students in Italy filed a patent for a process for making vegan hard-boiled eggsmade from legume flours, vegetable oils, a gelling agent, and salt. The resulting product is cholesterol- and gluten-free, and can be manufactured from organic ingredients.

A recent analysis found that health and fitness app usage has grown by 330% between 2014 and 2017. Apps focused on workouts and weight loss accounted for the majority of the usage.

One such health and fitness app, 8fit, which offers personalized workouts and meal plans, recentlyraised $7 million in Series A funding. The app offers high-intensity interval training (HIIT), yoga workouts, and meal plans tailored to fitness levels or goals (e.g., weight loss or muscle gain).

In other funding news, chat-based telemedicine company 98point6 raised $19.5 million. The company’s app allows users to chat with a board-certified physician without having to make an appointment. The company hopes to expand from acute care into wellness areas in the future, including weight loss and chronic condition management. 

 

Philanthropic Updates and Grants

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) announced the recipients of the 2017 RWJF Culture of Health Prize. Recipients -- communities making a significant efforts to improve the health and well-being of their residents -- receive a $25,000 cash prize and the opportunity to share their experiences.

The Idaho Dairy Council awarded 38 grants totaling $127,317 to support the National Dairy Council’s Fuel Up To Play initiative, which aims to empower youth to make healthy and positive changes for themselves and in their communities.

Billionaires Susan and Henry Samueli donated $200 million to University of California, Irvine medical school to launch a health program focused on integrative medicine -- defined as a combination of conventional and alternative medicine with a focus on wellness and lifestyle. Critics of the donation warn about the increasing number of unproven, alternative therapies that are entering mainstream medicine.

The Capital Area Food Bank (CAFB) in Washington, D.C. has reduced the amount of junk food it supplies to its 444 nonprofit partners by 84% after deciding to not accept junk food donations.

 

Other

The New York Times investigates how the growth of multinational food companies like Nestle have pushed processed foods into homes in Brazil and other low- and middle-income countries, and its correlation with the country’s growing obesity epidemic.

United Way of New York City, City Harvest, and Food Bank for New York City are reorganizing the way they serve their communities after realizing there were inequalities in their services. Initiatives included establishing food pantries in neighborhoods that take into the community’s religious dietary restrictions.