Wellness Weekly: A Snapshot of the Top News in Wellness

Policy and Politics

An overview of relevant policy, regulatory, and political events

On Monday, President Trump nominated Alex Azar, a former pharmaceutical executive and former HHS deputy secretary and general counsel, to replace Tom Price as HHS Secretary. Azar served under the George W. Bush administration. Azar has stated that he the Affordable Care Act is “fundamentally broken” and has expressed support for repeal.

On Thursday, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) introduced the Food and Farm Act, an alternative to the Farm Bill, which is due for reauthorization in 2018. While the bill is heralded for its implementation of policies in sustainable agriculture, the bill also seeks to improve nutrition. It would increase access to SNAP, increase the Food and Agriculture Service Learning Program (which supports education for children on healthy eating and growing and cooking food), make permanent a pilot program that currently brings more fresh fruit and vegetables to schools, create a program to support vegetable prescription projects in low-income communities, and more. The bill has garnered support from Michael Pollan, Wayne Pacelle (CEO of the Humane Society), Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH), and others.


Children and Youth

Keeping the K-12 population fit and eating well

A recent study found that children who participated in several sports from age 10-15 were more likely to remain active and continue playing sports throughout adolescence compared to peers who either specialized in one sport or played no sports at all. Children who did not play any sports at all were twice as likely to not participate in sports during their teen years.

A new study found a decrease in the consumption of sugary drinks among children. From 2003 to 2014, the percentage of children aged 2-19 years old drinking sugar drinks decreased from 79.7% to 60.7%. The study also found a decrease of sugary drink consumption among adults. The author of the study notes, however, that consumption is highest amongst blacks, Hispanics, and adolescents, who are all at a higher risk for obesity.


New Insights

Studies, new research, healthy nutrition and habits

Lancet study found that those living in areas with higher housing density -- more than 1,800 units per kilometer -- have a lower chance of being obese, as these areas lend themselves to more walking, more social interaction, and more access to various services. The study, however, also suggests that too much housing density could have adverse health effects. 

The International Diabetes Federation released the annual diabetes atlas. The report reveals that 1 in 11 adults aged 20-79 has diabetes, and that 1 in 2 adults with diabetes is undiagnosed. Additionally, The number of people with diabetes in North America and the Caribbean is projected to increase from 46 million in 2017 to 62 million by 2045. The study also noted that currently, more people living in urban areas have diabetes compared to those living in rural areas.

A new report from Gallup and Sharecare, a health and wellness engagement firm, estimates that diabetes costs the U.S. $245.5 billion annually, and the increase in the rate of diabetes since 2008 added $19.2 billion in costs this year. The report also suggests that an increase in missed work days by employees with diabetes has costed employers an additional $20.4 million annually.

Research suggests that those who exercise regularly have a 33% reduced chance of developing lower back pain. The study also found that combining exercise with education about back pain was linked to a 27% lower chance of developing lower back pain. Researchers noted that the type of exercise was not as important as getting the recommended amount of physical activity in each week.

A recent study found that half of individuals surveyed considered obese actually view themselves as obese and that 82% felt that weight loss was their own responsibility. Additionally, the study showed that 28% of healthcare providers do not believe it is their job to contribute to patients attempting to lose weight, though a majority tend to initiate weight management conversations with patients.

The American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology released new guidelines reducing the high blood pressure threshold from 140/90 to 130/80. The change categorizes more than 103 million Americans with high blood pressure, compared to an estimated 72 million based on previous guidelines.


Innovative Models, Med Tech, and Wearables

Walmart is the latest food retailer to join USDA’s 2-year pilot program allowing SNAP recipients to buy groceries online. The program is expected to launch in 2018, and the other retailers include Amazon, Dash’s Market, FreshDirect, Hart’s Local Grocers, Hy-vee Inc., Safeway, ShopRite, and Wright’s Markets.

The FDA has approved a digital pill for the first time. Abilify MyCite, an antipsychotic, contains a tracker that upon consumption would transmit information to an app accessible by doctors and anyone else the patient approves for access to the data. This digital pill was developed with hopes that it could address the $100 billion the problem of nonadherence to medication. While there is potential for success, a professor of clinical psychiatry notes that there is also cause for concern in terms of privacy (particularly the “big brother” aspect), and how widely accepted it will be. (The New York Times, subscription required)

CB Insights report suggests that the $90 billion global meat market will soon be disrupted by food industry startups producing meatless options featuring lab-grown meat, seafood substitute, and insect protein. Top meat producers such as Tyson, Pilgrim’s, and Sanderson Farms should be aware of this meatless trend, since 80% or more of their revenue comes from meat products.

A new Rock Health report analyzing women’s leadership in health care found that no women hold partner positions at 61% of venture capital firms investing in digital health. Data also revealed that only 32.4% of executives and 11% of CEOs at the 100 largest hospitals in the U.S. are women. 

A new study found that the Apple Watch accurately detected hypertension 82% of the time and sleep apnea 90% of the time. Based on this data, Cardiogram, creator of the heart tracking app for Apple Watch, suggests that wearables could be a cost-effective way to screen for hypertension and sleep apnea. 

The NIH purchased 10,000 Fitbits to use in their new project, All of Us, focused on uncovering how different diseases affect individual people. Researchers will use the wearables to track sleep, heart rate information, physical activity, and more. The Verge notes that there may be challenges in collecting the data since research has found that approximately one-third of wearable owners stop using the devices after 6 months, and that the devices may not be 100% accurate.


Philanthropic Updates and Grants

A new DC enterprise, Hustlerz 2 Harvesters, is seeking resources to grow an urban farm in Ward 7, an area suffering from food insecurity. The founders are “returning citizens” -- those who are returning to life after prison -- who recently enrolled in several urban gardening courses and would like to bring nutrition and employment opportunities to their neighborhood. 

The USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture awarded $2.9 million in grants to support projects that provide health education to rural communities and that seek to prevent and reduce significant health issues, such as opioid abuse and chronic disease. The funding was made available through the Rural Health and Safety Education Competitive Grant Program.

Bill Gates is investing $50 million in the Dementia Discovery Fund, a London-based public-private venture capital fund that conducts research on treatments for dementia. Recognizing that dementia is the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S., Gates plans to invest an additional $50 million into startups testing innovative treatment and prevention methods.



The New York Times takes a deep dive into the controversy over the sugary drink taxes in Colombia.

NHS England, Public Health England, and Diabetes UK have partnered with tech companies to pilot a project that uses apps, wearables, and other digital products to help at-risk individuals prevent the development of Type 2 diabetes.

Uwe Reinhardt, a well-regarded health economist and professor at Princeton, passed away on Monday. He was influential in policy reform, including having a hand in moving Medicare from a fee-for-service payment system to pay for performance in the Affordable Care Act.