Wellness Weekly: A Snapshot of the Top News in Wellness

Policy and Politics

An overview of relevant policy, regulatory, and political events

This week, the School Nutrition Association (SNA) joined forces with House Democrats to hold a rally on Capitol Hill against the House child nutrition reauthorization bill. The SNA, along with other health advocacy groups, is particularly concerned about the three-state block grant pilot included in the bill, fearing that it would cause states to lose federal nutrition funding and allow them to avoid federal nutrition standards. The Senate has its own version of the bill, which has the support of health and school groups and does not include the pilot.

The Philadelphia City Council passed the city's soda tax on Thursday by a final vote of 13 to four. The bill, which levies a 1.5 cent per ounce tax on sugary and artificially sweetened drinks, is expected to generate more than $400 million over the next five years, which Mayor Jim Kenney intends to use to fund pre-K education and park programs.

A new report from the North American Meat Institute breaks down the 25 congressional districts with the most economic benefit from the meat industry. Nebraska’s 3rd District held the top spot, with an output of $16 billion from meat and poultry production. The report also details the growth of the meat industry in the U.S. from $800 billion to more than $1 trillion over the past seven years.

California has passed a statewide law raising the smoking age to 21. The restriction applies to all tobacco products, including cigarettes, e-cigarettes, and chewing tobacco.

Constance Cullman, former government affairs leader at Dow AgroSciences, has begun her new role as President and CEO of Farm Foundation, which provides policy analysis and research in food and agriculture.

 

Children and Youth

Keeping the K-12 population fit and eating well

The USDA has released a fact sheet based on the 2015 Farm to School Census, which surveyed over 12,500 public, private, and charter schools on their participation in farm-to-school programming. Forty-two percent of districts surveyed, representing nearly 24 million students, engage in farm-to-school activities, and the majority of schools report that the programs have a positive impact on their students and community. During the 2013-14 school year, these schools spent $790 million on local foods - more than double the total of $386 million from the 2011-12 survey.

A study in the journal Eating & Weight Disorders concludes that parents who make comments about their child’s weight tend to do more harm than good. Researchers found that among more than 500 adult women surveyed, those who recalled more comments from their parents in childhood were more likely to think they needed to lose weight as adults, regardless of whether they were actually overweight.

Children’s weight may also be affected by changes in economic conditions, according to a study conducted by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Examining more than 1.5 million children in California, the study found that a 1 percent increase in unemployment in a community led to a 14 percent BMI increase among children in that community.

New guidelines from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine outline the recommended amount of sleep for children from 4 months to 18 years old. The recommendations (9-12 hours for children 6-12; 8-10 hours for children 13-18) resemble those of other organizations such as the National Sleep Foundation, and have the support of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

According to the Monell Center, a Philadelphia-based research institute that studies taste and smell, children undergoing growth spurts have an increased preference for sweets. The researchers suggest that the phenomenon is a result of the body’s need for calories during adolescence.

 

New insights

Studies, new research, healthy nutrition and habits

Two other studies, one in BMJ and another in Circulation, have found that eating whole grains can significantly reduce the risk of premature death. The study in BMJ found that, compared with eating no whole grains, eating 90 grams a day reduced mortality risk by 17%. The study in Circulation found that, of participants, those who ate the most whole grains had a 16% reduced risk for mortality and an 18% reduced risk for cardiovascular mortality compared with those who ate the least whole grains.

The World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) recently found that coffee is probably not carcinogenic after all - but beverages (any beverage at all) consumed at more than 65 degrees Celsius are likely to harm healthy cells and lead to cancer of the esophagus. Those of us in North America are probably fine - average serving temperatures for coffee and tea are usually under 60 degrees C.

According to research conducted by the USDA, simply increasing access to healthy food stores has less of an impact on consumers’ food purchases than expected. Various factors besides proximity, including product prices, degree of nutrition education, and available income, are equally important (if not more important) determiners of people’s buying preferences.

Economists from Dartmouth and Wellesley have found that raising SNAP benefits leads to more consumption of healthy foods in low-income households. According to the study, released by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a $30-per-person SNAP increase not only raises households’ grocery spending, but also increases consumption of vegetables and healthy protein and decreases fast food purchases.

A long-term analysis published in PLOS Medicine this week suggests that increasing vegetable consumption and eating less meat and dairy can lower the risk of Type 2 diabetes. Researchers found that healthful plant-based diets (i.e., those that avoided refined carbohydrates) led to a 34 percent decrease in diabetes risk.

A new study shows that (in mice, at least) exercise may change how some genes work in the brain. Scientists have known for a while that exercise increases levels of a substance called brain-derived neurotrophic factor, or B.D.N.F. In this study, researchers found that exercise allows the gene that creates B.D.N.F. to better receive signals telling it to produce the substance.

 

Innovative models, med tech and wearables

Walgreens officially ended its nearly three-year partnership with Theranos on Monday. In light of the regulatory scrutiny faced by the blood-testing company, which has voided or corrected thousands of test reports, the pharmacy will be closing all Theranos testing services inside Walgreens stores. Theranos is reportedly exploring partnerships with other pharmacies or supermarkets.

At its annual World Developer’s Conference, Apple announced a series of health and fitness updates for its Watch wearable. The Activity app is a real-time step counter and fitness tracker, and the Breathe app is focused on guiding users through deep breathing and meditation sessions. Apple is also giving iPhone users the ability to request medical records directly from doctors in an update to its HealthKit app framework.

As the summer Olympics approach, wearables are becoming indispensable training devices for the world’s most elite athletes. High-tech wearable sensors have even caught on in the NFL, where chips placed under players’ shoulder pads can send information to coaches 25 times per second.

The health insurance startup Oscar is also joining the wearables trend, offering its members $1 for each day they meet a step-tracking goal included in the Oscar mobile app.

Martha Stewart is entering the growing field of meal delivery startups with the launch of Martha & Marley Spoon, which offers a subscription service with step-by-step recipes drawn from her extensive series of cookbooks and magazines.

Panera Bread has crept into the top 10 of Technomic’s Top 500 Chain Restaurant Report, thanks to substantial investments in new technology (like online ordering and fast-lane kiosks) and a strong food philosophy, exemplified by its “No No List” of unacceptable ingredients.

In response to growing concerns about sugar from both consumers and regulators, Mars is considering taking M&Ms out of desserts like the McFlurry and Dairy Queen’s Blizzard. Mars has a public stance that sweets are best enjoyed in moderation; it was the first company in the U.S. to list calories on its chocolate bars, and, in 2013, limited candy packages to 250 calories per serving.

Beef councils from seven states are collaborating to promote a website dedicated to beef recipes in hopes of boosting sales to millennials. During the summer-long ad campaign, about 100 million consumers are expected to be targeted through Google ads and YouTube video promotions.

A Pakistan-based startup, Cowlar, is making a name for itself as the “Fitbit for cows.” The wearable tracking device monitors cows’ activity and core temperature, helping farmers detect disease and increase milk yield.

This week, the American Medical Association announced the winners of its Healthier Nation Innovation Challenge. Three teams of entrepreneurs split the $50,000 prize pot - the grand prize winner, Twiage, offers a platform to allow first responders to share patient data with hospitals.

 

Natural products, sustainability, and environment

This month, major food companies including Frito-Lay and Hostess have had to recall products due to peanut residue found in flour. The FDA has traced the problem in the affected products, which include Rold Gold Pretzels and Keebler cookies, to the Tennessee flour company Grain Craft.

Fortune spoke this week with John Replogle, the CEO of Seventh Generation. Replogle has expressed concern about the recently proposed update to the Toxic Substances Control Act, saying that it does not do enough to ensure the safety of chemicals in home and personal care products.

The Environmental Working Group has developed a searchable, user-friendly list of 16,000 products that contain the potentially dangerous chemical BPA. The database includes foods from nearly 1,000 different brands, and indicates that BPA is far more widespread than previous lists had shown.

Tyson Foods appointed Tom Hayes as its president this week. Hayes, who was chief supply chain officer at Hillshire Brands when it was purchased by Tyson in 2014, is expected to increase the company’s focus on branded, packaged foods.

The Good Food Institute (GFI), a nonprofit that provides consulting and support to plant-based food companies, is suing the FDA over its use of the term “soy milk.” The GFI contends that the FDA has used the term inconsistently, and is requesting full disclosure of the FDA’s soy milk-related records through the Freedom of Information Act.

Fort Lauderdale-based entrepreneurs Sara Shake and Jonna Piira have launched Kali, an organic tampon company that delivers monthly boxes to subscribers, like the popular Birchbox or Shave Club models. Because the FDA classifies tampons as medical items, ingredients are not required to be disclosed - but can include chlorine, GMOs, polyethylene, polypropylene, and propylene glycol. 

 

Philanthropic Updates and Grants

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is exploring the ways in which partnerships between the public health and housing sectors can improve community health and quality of life. Its Health Impact Project, a collaboration with Pew Charitable Trusts, promotes the use of Health Impact Assessments (HIAs) to examine the ways in which housing quality, affordability, and location can affect public health.

Last week, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation launched the Health Means Business Champions Network. The initiative will provide tools and resources for businesses, chambers of commerce, and other stakeholders to encourage them to promote and support community health programs. The network falls under the Health Means Business campaign, a two-year effort by the RWJF and the Chamber Foundation to help businesses engage in community wellness.

Wholesome Wave is among the recipients of a grant awarded under the Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive (FINI) program. The organization has received nearly $500,000 to test a “Farm-to-Grocery” model, which will create incentives to increase local food purchasing and improve access to healthy foods at stores that are already frequented by low-income consumers.

Food banks around the country have started operating mobile pantries, refrigerated trucks that provide fresh produce and other food to underserved areas. Many mobile pantries service rural regions where grocery options are few and far between, and they have also proved valuable in emergency situations. More than 80% of the food banks in the Feeding America network have set up mobile operations.

The New York City Food Policy Center, an initiative of Hunter College, has named its inaugural 40 Under 40 rising stars in food policy. The group includes educators, policymakers, farmers, and community leaders who are promoting healthy and sustainable food initiatives in their communities.

The University of California’s Global Food Initiative is also launching a recognition program for young innovators in food and agriculture, announcing its 30 Under 30 Awards this week. The winners include social enterprise catering companies, app developers, and farm-to-school specialists.

The head of a major alcoholic beverage distribution company has given $400,000 to Pace University’s law school to sponsor the pilot of a Food and Beverage Law Clinic. Rob Sands, CEO of Constellation Brands, is a Pace alum, and the clinic will provide legal services for farmers, entrepreneurs, and community groups.

 

 

Other

Food and Wine magazine has the scoop on the preferred fast food restaurants of the 2016 presidential campaigns, based on campaign expenditure reports. Hillary Clinton’s staffers have spent nearly $7,000 at Domino’s, while Donald Trump’s team prefers McDonald’s.

This week, Crain’s New York Business investigated the black market economy behind New York City’s vast food cart industry.