HEALTH

This year’s flu season officially worst since 2009

BY Michael Johnsen

It’s official. There is more flu-related illness impacting the U.S. today than there has been since the 2009/2010 season, when a summertime H1N1 epidemic was playing out across the country.

Nationwide for the week ended Jan. 13, 6.3% of patient visits reported through the U.S. Outpatient Influenza-like Illness Surveillance Network were due to influenza-like illness. That’s well above the 6% peak of the 2014/2015 season.

“With much of the country experiencing widespread and intense flu activity, many of you may be have been directly impacted by this. You may have been sick with the flu yourself or caring for loved ones who are sick. I also know that many of you may have received the flu vaccine this season, but you got sick anyway,” CDC director Brenda Fitzgerald told reporters last week (and before flu activity reached new heights). “So far this season, influenza A, H3N2, has been the most common form of influenza. These viruses are often linked to more severe illness, especially among children and people age 65 and older. When H3 viruses are predominant, we tend to have a worse flu season with more hospitalizations and more deaths.”

So far, a total of 8,990 laboratory-confirmed influenza-associated hospitalizations were reported between Oct. 1, 2017 and Jan. 13, 2018. The overall hospitalization rate was 31.5 per 100,000 population. The highest rate of hospitalization was among seniors (136.5 per 100,000 population), followed by adults aged 50-64 (33.2 per 100,000 population) and children aged 0-4 years (22.8 per 100,000 population).

“While our surveillance systems show that nationally the flu season may be peaking now, we know from past experience that it will take many more weeks for flu activity to truly slow down,” Fitzergald said.

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Resolutionists pleased with their health, they’re just not there yet

BY Michael Johnsen

Americans who committed to living healthier lives in 2017 found success, according to the latest research from Mintel. More than half (55%) of Americans who resolved to live a healthier lifestyle in 2017 compared to the year prior did so, and 45% reported they had made dramatic changes to improve their health.

But then again, while nearly all (90%) Americans consider their overall lifestyle to be ‘somewhat’ or ‘very’ healthy, it seems consumers’ definition of healthy living and their day-to-day reality does not always align. Despite the fact that three in four adults consider eating a healthy diet and getting enough sleep (76%, respectively) to be a part of a healthy lifestyle, only half say they regularly do either (52% respectively). A similar pattern is seen with regard to exercise; while 74% say regular exercise is part of a healthy lifestyle, just 53% say they do so regularly. Still, a determined 13% of consumers say they are strict with themselves to ensure they stay as healthy as possible.

“While brands can take steps to mitigate price and time constraints, motivating consumers involves tapping into and resonating with their emotions.”

“Today, consumers associate a variety of actions with ‘healthy living,’ indicating that companies in the health and wellness space need to take into account that living a healthy lifestyle doesn’t necessarily mean the same thing to all people,” Gina Cavato, lifestyles and leisure analyst at Mintel, said. “Adults are more likely to associate healthy living with physical or quantifiable health habits, which may in part be due to advances in technology as it continues to play an important role in the way consumers are able to monitor and track their health. However, our research shows that consumers aren’t always taking action and perceptions of health may not be the reality, likely driven by adults comparing their own health to similarly unhealthy peers. This means that companies need to work harder to understand who their target audience is and provide solutions for living a healthier lifestyle.”

Although physical health is a top priority, mental and emotional health habits are also high on the list. Three in five (60%) consumers consider feeling emotionally stable as part of a healthy lifestyle, with women, particularly older women, more likely to agree. In fact, 67% of women prioritize feeling emotionally stable, rising to 73% of women aged 55 and over. What’s more, half (51%) of consumers overall believe dedicating time to relaxation is important to a healthy lifestyle, rising to 54% of women and 60% of women over 55.

While consumers recognize that diet and exercise are important factors for living healthy lives, many struggle with motivation to maintain healthy habits. Half of consumers who don’t maintain a healthy lifestyle all of the time cite motivation as their biggest obstacle to keeping up with exercise (50%) and healthy eating (48%) habits.

Furthermore, consumers are more likely to cite time as an obstacle to staying active/exercising (32%) than keeping up healthy eating habits (25%). Cost rounds out the list of top barriers to healthy living with two in five (40%) consumers who don’t maintain healthy eating habits all of the time agreeing that healthy foods are too expensive, while 16% agree it’s too expensive to stay active.

For those able to maintain a healthy lifestyle, it seems balance is key with more than three quarters (78%) of consumers agreeing that healthy choices can be balanced by small indulgences. However, consumers may be taking their ‘small indulgences’ a bit too far as more than half (54%) of consumers agree that they feel bad about themselves when they make unhealthy choices.

“Consumers know what a healthy lifestyle entails, but they struggle to regularly make healthy choices due to issues with motivation, cost, and time. While brands can take steps to mitigate price and time constraints, motivating consumers involves tapping into and resonating with their emotions. Messaging about the whole-body benefits of healthy living, including emotional well-being, may help encourage consumers to keep up with healthy habits. Brands can also work to change the perception that eating healthy is cost prohibitive and offer healthy products that help consumers save time,” Cavato said.

 

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Proposed OTC monograph reform may spur innovation

BY Michael Johnsen

The House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee on Wednesday approved bipartisan draft legislation to reform and modernize the OTC Monograph system.

More than 60% of pharmaceuticals on the U.S. market today are OTC medicines which provide Americans with safe, effective, and affordable therapies to treat and prevent many common ailments and conditions. Yet, the current OTC regulatory framework is based on a 45-year-old model that requires notice and comment rulemaking, an increasingly slow administrative process that has led to delays in completing OTC monographs and difficulties in updating product labels with new safety information.

Additionally, the current system does not provide a mechanism for innovation for new and/or improved products under the regulatory structure, the Consumer Healthcare Products Association reported.

“Today’s subcommittee vote marks a major step forward for OTC Monograph reform,” Scott Melville, president and CEO CHPa, said. “CHPA applauds the subcommittee … for their leadership in advancing draft legislation that reflects more than two years of collaboration and compromise between regulators, lawmakers, public health stakeholders and industry.”The draft bill, authored by Reps. Bob Latta, R-Ore., Diana DeGette, D-Colo., subcommittee chairman Michael Burgess, R-Texas, vice chairman Brett Guthrie, R-Ky., ranking member Gene Green, D-Texas, and Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., was reported out of the subcommittee by voice vote.

“While CHPA strongly supports the OTC Monograph system as a balanced framework for regulating OTC medicines containing ingredients with a proven history of safe use, it has become gridlocked and needs to be modernized,” said Melville, who testified before the subcommittee in September in strong support of OTC Monograph reform. “This legislation would not only help increase the efficiency and responsiveness necessary to protect consumer health, it would also spur innovation to provide consumers with additional self-care choices.”

 

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