Wellness Weekly: A Snapshot of the Top News in Wellness

Policy and Politics

An overview of relevant policy, regulatory, and political events

On Tuesday, the FDA released draft guidance announcing that it would enforce the much-anticipated federal menu-labeling requirements beginning on May 7, 2018, 8 years after menu labeling was first included in the Affordable Care Act. The new guidance offers more flexibility on how to label calories, such as having one placard at a buffet bar rather than requiring labeling of each individual item and simplifying how pizza combinations are labeled. FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb also hinted that the Trump administration is actively working on policy initiatives around nutrition. 

Also on Tuesday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the “Veterans E-Health and Telemedicine Support Act of 2017” (H.R. 2123), which allows VA providers to deliver telemedicine across state lines. The bill also requires the agency to submit a report evaluating the effectiveness of the telemedicine program. A Senate version of the bill (S. 925) is currently in the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.


Children and Youth

Keeping the K-12 population fit and eating well

Researchers from the University of Texas found that Brighter Bites, a school-based food cooperative program, was effective in improving the diets of lower-income children. Between 2013 and 2016, Brighter Bites provided nutrition education and 54 to 61 servings of produce to lower-income families every week. Of the parent participants surveyed, more than 80% said it improved their children’s diets. With more than 90% of the produce given to families donated by others in the community, the researchers also noted that the program can address food waste.

While the total number of food ads targeting children under 12 has declined, a new study found that children still see ten to eleven food-related advertisements per day, and that the majority are for unhealthy options like fast food and sugary drinks The study also noted that most companies that signed a voluntary pledge in 2007 to reduce advertising aimed at children ignored other public health recommendations, including improving overall nutrition standards of food products and expanding the initiative to older children.

A recent study projects that national implementation of a pilot program that placed water dispensers in school cafeterias would save $13.1 billion in health care costs. Although the initial investment to install water dispensers in schools would cost $18 per student, the intervention would result in an incremental benefit of $192 per student -- resulting in $14.50 saved per dollar spent. A previous study on the program found that the water dispensers tripled the amount of water consumed by students, and was associated with a decreased risk of becoming overweight.

The CDC launched Milestone Tracker, a new app for parents of children aged 2 months to 5 years that allows parents to record their child’s developmental achievements and verify if their child has any physical, emotional, or cognitive delays. Although children develop at different rates, the app is programmed to ask a variety of specific questions, so that it can recommend a visit to the pediatrician in cases where there is concern of a developmental deficit, such as autism, ADHD, hearing or vision loss, among others. 


New Insights

Studies, new research, healthy nutrition and habits

Time-restricted eating -- where people confine their eating to a specific window of time -- was found to be effective for losing weight and reducing caloric intake among people with obesity. Study participants restricted their eating to between 10:00am and 6:00pm for three months, adhering to the schedule for an average 5.6 days out of the week, and experienced a 2.6% loss in body weight and consumed approximately 350 fewer calories each day.

A recent study found that fat cells absorb a drug used in chemotherapy and make it less active, explaining obesity’s link to poorer survival outcomes for patients with several forms of cancer, including breast, colon, ovarian, and prostate. Researchers at UCLA found that the amount of the chemotherapy drug in leukemia cells decreased by two-thirds in a mixture of human cancer and fat cells, in comparison to samples that did not contain fat cells.

JAMA Oncology study recommends that colorectal cancer patients increase their daily fiber intake, as each 5% increase in fiber reduces patients’ risk of dying from colorectal cancer by 18% and the overall risk of dying by 14%. Colorectal cancer patients should be advised that fiber from cereal and vegetables had a stronger impact than fiber from fruit. (The Washington Post, subscription required)

Research from the University of Sydney revealed that engaging in strength training, such as weightlifting, push-ups, and squats, is associated with a 23% reduced risk of death and more specifically, a 31% reduced risk of death from cancer.

A new study found that walking briskly for an average of 70 minutes per day can reduce older women’s risk of death by 70% in comparison to women who average 8 minutes of daily exercise. The researchers did not observe any associated benefits with higher levels of light activity (e.g., slow walking) or an increased risk of death among women who lived a more sedentary lifestyle. 

An analysis of more than 40 studies found that lifestyle changes were as effective as medications in reducing the likelihood of diabetes in at-risk adults, but the positive effects of a healthy lifestyle persisted longer than the benefits of medication. Lifestyle changes reduced diabetes risk by 39%, compared to 36% for medications, but after an average of 7.2 years for follow-up, the lifestyle interventions still reduced risk by 28%, while medication intervention effects did not persist.

A World Bank report calls attention to the link between obesity and access to a healthy diet, reporting that 2 billion people in the world are malnourished and the cost of obesity and overweight individuals adds up to $2 trillion annually. The report explains the role agriculture and food production can play in relieving the global malnutrition crisis and offers action and policy plans for countries to adopt.

A recent study discovered that an AI-powered robot that encouraged overweight individuals to lose weight and maintain a healthy die, was just as a effective as a in-person therapist. The results indicate that researchers should continue exploring the role of AI in medicine. 


Innovative Models, Med Tech, and Wearables

New York Times article suggests that while interventions based on behavioral economics have attempted to address patient noncompliance and adherence to treatment issues that lead to negative health outcomes, research has shown that these experiments have had limited success. The piece does note, however, that nudges may work better in a public health setting rather than in direct health care, but that interventions that see success are often expensive, require a lot of attention, and are singularly focused on one issue or condition. (The New York Times, subscription required)

A recent report on digital health tools found that 40% of the health apps focus on condition management, with over 55% of them using sensor data to track activity and wellness management. Researchers concluded that the use of digital health apps in areas of diabetes prevention, diabetes management, asthma, cardiac rehabilitation, and pulmonary rehabilitation, could save the U.S. health care system an estimated $7 billion per year.

Artificial intelligence can fundamentally change how doctors and hospitals recognize and treat illnesses. However, as this Atlantic article explores, the constantly changing nature of machine learning may conflict with the FDA’s staid regulatory process, prompting the FDA to adapt.

CVS announced that it is rolling out free next-day delivery at all of its 9,700 locations next year, and free same-day shipping in certain cities. The service, which will include prescriptions and certain over-the counter-items, comes in response to potential competition from Amazon.com, which recently received regulatory approval to become a wholesale pharmaceutical distributor from a number of states.

The American Medical Association expanded its initiative to reduce type 2 diabetes among American to eight states, including Maine, Maryland, Mississippi, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island. The initiative, launched in 2016, works in collaboration with state medical societies to encourage doctors to screen patients with prediabetes and refer them to diabetes prevention programs. 

Fortune profiled Cindy Whitehead, the creator of the “Viagra for women,” and CEO of The Pink Ceiling, which provides media and branding strategy, as well as mentorship, to female-led companies that are looking to build and expand their business.


Philanthropic Updates and Grants

The Aetna Foundation granted more than $2 million to 25 U.S. nonprofits through its Cultivating Healthy Communities Initiative. The initiative supports organizations addressing social determinants of healthy, particularly those promoting healthy eating and access to safe areas for recreational activity. A portion of the funding will also support organizations addressing environmental health factors, like air pollution.

Northwestern Mutual and Aurora Health Care will each be investing $5 million to support Milwaukee-based technology startups. Northwestern Mutual’s Cream City Venture Capital will provide early stage funding ranging from $100,000 to $250,000 for startups in any industry. Aurora Health Care's InvestMKE will invest up to $1 million in companies developing solutions that make health more efficient, personalized, and easy. 

University of Alabama at Birmingham received a $7 million NIH grant to establish the Obesity Health Disparities Research Center. The program aims to foster collaborative research in health disparities and minority health. The new center will study behavioral, social, and biological factors related to obesity during various periods of life. 



The New York Times’ Aaron Carroll writes that “food should be a cause for pleasure, not panic” in a piece suggesting that Americans don’t need to “eat clean.” (The New York Times, subscription required)

While it’s no secret that President Trump is a “yuge” fan of McDonald’s, Eater reports that President Trump went so far as to ask the White House kitchen staff to recreate the McDonald’s Quarter Pounder. He also enjoys the fast food chain’s fried apple pie.