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Mixed Messaging on CVS Health Shelves

Last week, CVS Caremark changed its name to CVS Health and pulled all tobacco products from its shelves. Way to go, CVS. That’s a great move. And if  CVS really wants to lead the charge toward better health care, there is an even more important step: It needs to tackle the grocery aisle next.

In my local CVS—just steps away from the pharmacy—the shelves and refrigerators are stocked with milk, butter, beef jerky, ice cream, frozen pepperoni pizza, and other unhealthful foods.

Beef jerky and milk at CVS health.

Beef jerky and the milk refrigerator are adjacent to the pharmacy.

Cheese and pizza are the top two source of saturated fat in the American diet—with other meat and dairy products rounding out the top 10. These high-fat foods not only contribute to our obesity rates, but also our country’s leading cause of death: heart disease. According to the CDC, heart disease alone kills more Americans annually than all forms of cancer combined.

With 7,000 locations across the country, there is a huge opportunity for CVS to improve national health standards. Instead of selling artery-clogging meat and dairy products, it should offer heart-healthy grab-and-go snacks, like clementines, bananas, and hummus. Leading by example and ceasing the sale of dairy and meat products can turn CVS into CardioVascularSaviors.

Ice cream and frozen pizza near the CVS pharmacy.

The pharmacy is just to the left of these cases of ice cream and frozen pizza

Want to see nutrition resources at CVS Health? Tweet a link to our Nutrition Rainbow to @CVS! You can also find your local CVS on Yelp and leave a review, letting the store know that you admire the progress, but as long as it’s offering health care along with unhealthful foods, there’s incongruity in its message.

Drive Away Diabetes with Community-Based Food for Life Classes

In my work as a diabetes researcher, I’ve learned two important lessons about type 2 diabetes: First, it does not have to be a one-way street—it can get better and sometimes even disappear. Second, to successfully turn around the disease, it pays to have support—from family, friends, or a class.

For the past few months, the Physicians Committee has been hosting free five-week-long series of Food for Life diabetes workshops for Washington, D.C.-area residents hoping to manage type 2 diabetes by adopting a healthful, plant-based diet. Since starting in February, the program has put more than 200 people on the path toward improved health.

I start each series by talking with participants about the root causes of diabetes and why our country’s growing obsession with meat, cheese, and other fatty foods has contributed to the escalating epidemic. I also share research and success stories that show that plant-based diets have the power to reduce the risk for diabetes and benefit those who have already been diagnosed.

I ask participants to wade into this new way of eating by testing out healthful possibilities to see what they like. Together, we brainstorm ideas for plant-based meals that are high in fiber and low on the glycemic index. After testing them out, most people are surprised to find how easy and delicious this transition can be.

Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potatoes are high in nutrients and extremely versatile!

For the next four weeks, the class puts this information into practice in a supportive group environment. Every Tuesday night, the class meets to discuss the week’s challenges and successes, and participants learn new techniques to help them easily transition to their new diets. With the support of the group, everyone feels prepared with all the tools they need. Our weekly meetings keep people feeling motivated to stick to the plan.

Food for Life instructor Kara Blank-Gonzalez taught a recent class to prepare a flavorful leafy green salad with baked sweet potatoes and oil-free dressing, fiber-packed brown rice with black bean chili, and Chocolate Cherry Nirvana Smoothies. Throughout the food demonstrations, class participants asked questions and shared tips with one another about best practices, local grocery store finds, and food substitution ideas, creating a positive, friendly environment.

Diabetes Class

Food for Life Instructor Kara Blank-Gonzalez preps a leafy green salad for the class.

Recent projections show that if we don’t act now, 17.9 million new diabetes cases are expected in 2015, with 51.7 million new cases expected in 2030. It doesn’t have to be this way. We can turn this trend around by working together as a community to focus on the foods that best promote health.

Our most recent class series started Aug. 26! Check it out on the Physicians Committee Meetup Page. And a five-class Kickstart Your Health series begins Oct. 9. For more information or to reserve a spot in an upcoming class, please contact Tara Kemp at TKemp@PCRM.org or 202-527-7314.

The Physicians Committee also has free Spanish-speaking classes starting tonight, Aug. 27. For more information or to reserve a spot in a Spanish-speaking class, please contact Mallory Huff at MHuff@PCRM.org or 202-527-7347.

Remember: It’s important to continue to work with your doctor or health care provider to track your progress and monitor your medications.

ALS Association: Put the Animal Experiments on Ice

The “ice bucket challenge” has gone viral. Participants either dump ice water on their heads or donate to charity—or both. How it started is not exactly clear, but this year, the main beneficiary has been ALS research.

Unfortunately, donors may not be aware that a great deal of ALS research funding is being spent on attempts to create animals with genetic mutations that produce symptoms that mimic ALS.  Animal experiments like these are not just bad for animals. They have not resulted in effective treatments. Part of the reason may be that many of the mutations targeted by researchers only account for 5-10 percent of all ALS cases. The failure of translation of results from animal experiments to human patients has been a huge source of frustration.  The result is a waste of time, resources, and money.

And it’s the patients who pay the toll: Ninety percent of drugs that appear useful in animals do not work—or prove unsafe—when tested in people. And half the drugs that are approved are later withdrawn or relabeled for adverse effects not detected by animal tests.

Make the most out of your donation by finding a humane charity!

Make the most out of your donation by finding a humane charity!

But there is a better way. There are exciting advances in human-relevant medical research that are giving scientists insight into the etiology, prevention and treatment of disease. In ALS research, for example, scientists are now studying motor neuron cells derived from the skin cells of patients with the disease. This technique has led to the discovery of how certain genetic mutations interfere with the ability of motor neurons to function normally—an effect never observed in mouse models of ALS.

Focusing research dollars on new technologies like these—that are directly relevant to human patients—will pave the way to gaining a better understanding of how ALS and other diseases occur, and will hopefully lead to effective treatments.

So if you would like to participate in an ice bucket challenge, please direct your donations to a charity that focuses on relevant and progressive nonanimal research methods.

Compassionate Care is one organization that provides a variety of resources for those affected by ALS and their families—and Compassionate Care does not fund research on animals. You will find a list of other charities that support nonanimal testing methods at HumaneSeal.org.

Let’s put animal experiments on ice and support only ethical, effective research.

Give and Let Live