Wellness Weekly: A Snapshot of the Top News in Wellness

Policy and Politics

An overview of relevant policy, regulatory, and political events

According to a report from USDA, Thailand will be joining efforts to reduce sugar consumption by imposing a tariff on sugary beverages exported from the U.S. In place of Thailand’s current 20% tax on imported beverages, there will be a flat 10% tax and a tariff on beverages with over 6 grams of sugar per 100 milliliters. The USDA report estimates that the new tax could increase the total excise tax burden on certain sugary beverages by 20-30%.

District Administration reports that more states are following the trend of requiring recess in K-5 schools. This year, Florida and Rhode Island became the fifth and sixth states to require recess. Eleven states officially recommend recess, and 8 other states have a mandate for “general activity.” A CDC review concluded that physical activity is positively associated with academic outcomes.


Children and Youth

Keeping the K-12 population fit and eating well

Fifteen public schools in Brooklyn will begin offering vegetarian lunches on “Meatless Mondays” this spring, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) announced on Monday. He noted that a handful of schools in the city have chosen to provide vegetarian meals to students every day.

A new study found that adolescents with type 1 diabetes who were promised a monetary reward were almost three times more likely to adhere to their schedule to check blood sugar levels compared to those who were not given a financial incentive. The study, however, found that while the incentive helped adolescents check their blood sugar more often, it did not significantly improve blood sugar control.

After ten years, the American Academy of Pediatrics has released an updated statement regarding infection prevention and control in pediatric settings. Realizing that doctor’s offices or other outpatient centers are not always as sanitary as hospitals, the Academy recommends that waiting rooms should always be equipped with hand sanitizer and should be free of stuffed animals, which often contain excessive amounts of germs.


New Insights

Studies, new research, healthy nutrition and habits

A study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine reported that walking can decrease mortality risk in adults. Even those who walk for physical activity for less than the recommended 150 minutes a week have reduced mortality rates compared to inactive adults, while getting as much or more walking in than the recommended amounts reduced the risk of death by a further 20%.

A recent report reveals that more than 50% of consumers check the sugar content of a food product before buying it. Half of consumers in the eight countries studied also reported that they are willing to pay extra for products that only use natural sweeteners, and 45% reported that they would pay extra for products that do not use artificial sweeteners.

In a similar vein, a new study from the University of Toronto warns healthy consumers to look more closely at the label when checking for key phrases such as “no added sugar” or “reduced sugar”, as they may be misleading. Research shows that products with such labels, while low in sugar, may still be high in calories or fat. Or, on an even more misleading note, a product like 100% fruit juice may not have any “added” sugar, but it does contain significant natural sugar.

A recent study suggests that a combination of Indian yoga and aerobic exercise reduces mental, physical, and vascular stress, pointing to a new beneficial, balanced workout option for individuals with heart disease. Patients who did both yoga and aerobics saw their blood pressure, cholesterol, and weight, among other measures decrease by as much as two-fold, compared to individuals who only participated in one of the activities.

According to newly released data from the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics, the number of U.S. adults with high cholesterol has steadily declined in recent years. The data show that Americans have already surpassed the the Healthy People 2020 goal of reducing the high cholesterol rate to 13.5% among adults over age 20. As of last year, 12.4% of adults had high cholesterol, compared to 18.3% in 1999-2000.  

Data pulled from 78 countries from 1999-2014 revealed that high levels of carbonated soft drink sales were associated with increases in BMI and rates of obesity and diabetes in low and lower-middle income countries, while the relationship between soft drinks sales and weight-related outcomes in high-income countries were not statistically significant. 


Innovative Models, Med Tech, and Wearables

CVS Health may purchase Aetna Inc. for $66 billion. A deal with Aetna could help CVS advance its reach in the healthcare industry, through urgent health care clinics or by providing additional benefits to health plans for employers. (The Wall Street Journal, subscription required)

In other CVS news, CVS Health recently introduced ScriptPath, a new printable prescription schedule that uses a new format and simple sun and moon icons to more clearly show medicine dosing schedules and improve adherence to treatment plans. The pharmacy chain plans to roll out the design on pill bottle labels in 2018. CVS Health partnered with Deborah Adler, who is known for designing Target’s ClearRx prescription packaging system, on the project.

Life insurance company John Hancock is partnering with Apple to provide members of their healthy living program, Vitality, with a Series 3 Apple Watch for $25. The only catch is that if members do not exercise regularly for two years, they will have to pay the steep cost of the watch off in installments. So far, 50% of people who received the watch have met their monthly fitness goals.

On Tuesday, the American Medical Association launched the Physician Innovation Network, an online forum where businesses and entrepreneurs can seek the input of physicians on the development of healthcare technologies. The network will include both paid and volunteer opportunities for physicians to offer feedback on different digital health products.

Wellth, a mobile app that uses behavioral economic theories to improve treatment adherence, is conducting an NIH-funded study on improving health outcomes for patients with hypertension. The study will explore the effectiveness of monetary incentives to improve medication adherence and encourage healthy behaviors.

The FDA has approved Confirm Rx, a bluetooth-enabled heart monitor -- the first of its kind in the U.S. -- that is implanted in the chest and continuously tracks a patient’s heart rhythm and shares the data through the myMerlin smartphone app. The app can also share data updates directly with a physician’s office on a pre-set schedule.

Cleveland Clinic and the nonprofit JumpStart announced a three-year partnership with startup incubator and accelerator Plug and Play to create the “Plug and Play Cleveland HealthTech Accelerator.” The program, which supports startups focused on biotech and digital health will begin in the spring of 2018 and will accept 10 startups every six months.

According to public records, Amazon has gained licenses to become a wholesale distributor from 12 state pharmaceutical boards, which would allow Amazon to sell prescription drugs and medical devices. However, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch notes that Amazon would still need pharmacy licenses to sell directly to consumers.


Philanthropic Updates and Grants

Rabobank and the United Nations are partnering to finance a $1 billion, 3-year program encouraging farmers to implement more sustainable practices. Rabobank plans to disburse the funding through grants, loans with lower interest rates, and insurance products.

After a month of preparing meals for Puerto Rican residents affected by Hurricane Maria, chef Jose Andres is reducing his efforts as the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) provides more contracts for local businesses and food suppliers. His nonprofit, World Central Kitchen, recently signed a $10 million contract with FEMA to produce 120,000 meals a day for two weeks. Though the main efforts are winding down, the network will continue to provide meals in more remote areas of the island. (The New York Times, subscription required)



This week, Nestle announced its plans to leave the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) at the end of the year. Nestle and GMA have publicly disagreed on major food and nutrition policies, including the Obama administration’s push for “added sugars” labeling. The company did not, however, comment on its reasons for leaving the association. Earlier this year, Campbell Soup Co. also announced that it is leaving the trade association.

California Governor Jerry Brown (D) signed Assembly Bill 10 into law, requiring middle and high schools with at least 40% of students who meet federal poverty standards to provide free feminine hygiene products in restrooms. The law will go into effect in 2018.