- Created on 18 January 2013
How segregated a neighborhood is may determine who dies from lung cancer, according to a new study. The study looked at every county in the United States and classified them into high, medium and low levels of segregation, reports The Grio.
Researchers at JAMA Surgery found that African-Americans living in highly segregated counties were 20 percent more likely to die from lung cancer than those in less segregated areas. On the other hand, they found the opposite for whites: those in highly segregated areas were less likely to die of lung cancer.
- Created on 17 January 2013
(CNNMoney) -- Raising the Medicare eligibility age would save money for the federal government ... but it would raise health care costs for nearly everyone else.
If seniors were not allowed to enroll in Medicare until 67 starting next year, federal spending would drop by $5.7 billion in 2014, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. But Americans enrolled both in private health insurance plans and Medicare, as well as employers and states, would see expenses jump by $11.4 billion.
"Raising the age doesn't address the larger concern of reducing health care spending overall," said Juliette Cubanski, associate director of Kaiser's Program on Medicare Policy. "It just shifts costs from the federal government to other payers in the system."
Medicare reform is back in the spotlight as the White House and Congress gear up for another deficit reduction battle in coming weeks. President Obama has said he'd be willing to make modest changes to Medicare as part of the debt ceiling negotiations, while House Republicans are looking to overhaul the troubled entitlement programs.
Raising the eligibility age to 67, which would once again align Medicare with the full retirement age in the Social Security program, has been kicked around for years. Advocates say that the program should reflect the increased lifespan that Americans now enjoy, as well as the fact that there are fewer workers to support retirees.
"The real reason to do this is to recognize that demographics have changed and financing has changed," said Robert Moffitt, senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative group that advocates raising the eligibility age to 68. "We should encourage those who can keep working to keep working."
One of the major concerns raised had been that many 65- and 66-year-olds would be left in the cold, without employer-based coverage or affordable individual insurance. That worry, however, has been blunted somewhat by the Affordable Care Act, which would provide insurance in government exchanges and subsidies for those of moderate income. Poor adults could be covered by an expanded Medicaid program, though not every state will opt to widen its program.
About 435,000 of these youngest seniors would be at risk of becoming uninsured, out of the roughly 5.5 million in that age group, according to estimates by the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning group.
But many of those who remain covered will likely pay more than they would had they transitioned to Medicare. Two-thirds of adults would pay more out of pocket in premiums and cost-sharing, to the tune of $3.7 billion in 2014, according to Kaiser.
There would also be a ripple effect. Employers will pay $4.5 billion more because they would have more of these older workers on their insurance rolls. And premiums in government exchanges would rise by $141 per person to accommodate the additional people in the pool. States would pay $700 million more to cover those eligible for Medicaid.
Even Medicare recipients would see higher annual premiums -- $46 on average -- because raising the age would remove comparatively healthy participants.
"It increases Medicare costs because it takes out the youngest patients and puts them into a group where they are the oldest and sickest," said Maura Calsyn, associate director of health policy for the Center for American Progress.
Heritage's Moffitt agrees that lowering health care costs overall is important and supports doing so by broader Medicare reforms along the lines of what Vice Presidential Candidate Paul Ryan suggested. But it's unlikely, he says, that that will happen in the next few weeks. So Congress should enact smaller reforms that will benefit the economy by keeping more workers on the job.
"I want those people in the workforce, not on an entitlement program," he said.
- Created on 15 January 2013
(AP) — Coca-Cola became one of the world's most powerful brands by equating its soft drinks with happiness. Now it's taking to the airwaves for the first time to address a growing cloud over the industry: obesity.
The Atlanta-based company on Monday will begin airing a two-minute spot during the highest-rated shows on CNN, Fox News and MSNBC in hopes of flexing its marketing muscle in the debate over sodas and their impact on public health. The ad lays out Coca-Cola's record of providing drinks with fewer calories and notes that weight gain is the result of consuming too many calories of any kind — not just soda.
For Coca-Cola, the world's No. 1 beverage company, the ads reflect the mounting pressures on the broader industry. Later this year, New York City is set to enact a first-in-the-nation cap on the size of soft drinks sold at restaurants, movie theaters and sports arenas. The mayor of Cambridge, Mass., has already introduced a similar measure, saying she was inspired by New York's move.
Even when PepsiCo Inc., the No. 2 soda maker, recently signed a wide-ranging endorsement deal with pop singer Beyonce, critics called for her to drop the contract or donate the funds to health initiatives.
New research in the past year also suggests that sugary drinks cause people to pack on the pounds independent of other behavior. A decades-long study involving more than 33,000 Americans, for example, suggested that drinking sugary beverages interacts with genes that affect weight and enhances a person's risk of obesity beyond what it would be from heredity alone.
Michael Jacobson, executive director for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, was skeptical about Coca-Cola's ads and said the company would stop fighting soda taxes if it was serious about helping reduce obesity.
"It looks like a page out of damage control 101," he said. "They're trying to disarm the public."
The group has been critical of the soft drink industry and last year released a video parodying Coke's famous polar bears becoming plagued with diabetes and other health problems.
Coca-Cola said its ads aren't a reaction to negative public sentiment. Instead, the idea is to raise awareness about its lower-calorie drinks and plans for the coming months, said Stuart Kronauge, general manager of sparkling beverages for Coca-Cola North America.
"There's an important conversation going on about obesity out there, and we want to be a part of the conversation," she said.
In the ad, a narrator notes that obesity "concerns all of us" but that people can make a difference when they "come together." The spot was produced by the ad agencies Brighthouse and Citizen2 and is intended to tout Coca-Cola's corporate responsibility to cable news viewers.
Another ad, which will run later this week during "American Idol" and before the Super Bowl, is much more reminiscent of the catchy, upbeat advertising people have come to expect from Coca-Cola. It features a montage of activities that add up to burning off the "140 happy calories" in a can of Coke: walking a dog, dancing, sharing a laugh with friends and doing a victory dance after bowling a strike.
The 30-second ad, a version of which ran in Brazil last month, is intended to address confusion about the number of calories in soda, said Diana Garza Ciarlante, a spokeswoman for Coca-Cola Co. She said the company's consumer research showed people mistakenly thought there were as many as 900 calories in a can of soda.
The company declined to say how much it was spending on the commercials, which it started putting together last summer. It also declined to give details on its plans for the year ahead. But among the options under consideration is putting the amount of activity needed to burn off the calories in a drink on cans and bottles.
The company noted that it already puts calorie counts on the front of its cans and bottles. Last year, it also started posting calorie information on its vending machines ahead of a regulation that will require soda companies to do so by 2014.
Coca-Cola's changing business reflects the public concern over the calories in soda. In North America, all the growth in its soda unit over the past 15 years has come from low- and no-calorie drinks, such as Coke Zero. Diet sodas now account for nearly a third of its sales in the U.S. and Canada. Other beverages such as sports drinks and bottled water are also fueling growth.
Even with the growing popularity of diet sodas, however, overall soda consumption in the U.S. has declined steadily since 1998, according to the industry tracker Beverage Digest.
John Sicher, the publisher of Beverage Digest, noted that the industry "put its head in the sand" when obesity and soft drinks first started becoming an issue more than a decade ago. Now, he said Coca-Cola is looking to position itself in the public debate rather than being defined by adversaries.
- Created on 16 January 2013
(AP) — A new government survey suggests the number of people seeking emergency treatment after consuming energy drinks has doubled nationwide during the past four years, the same period in which the supercharged drink industry has surged in popularity in convenience stores, bars and on college campuses.
From 2007 to 2011, the government estimates the number of emergency room visits involving the neon-labeled beverages shot up from about 10,000 to more than 20,000. Most of those cases involved teens or young adults, according to a survey of the nation's hospitals released late last week by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
The report doesn't specify which symptoms brought people to the emergency room but calls energy drink consumption a "rising public health problem" that can cause insomnia, nervousness, headache, fast heartbeat and seizures that are severe enough to require emergency care.
Several emergency physicians said they had seen a clear uptick in the number of patients suffering from irregular heartbeats, anxiety and heart attacks who said they had recently downed an energy drink.
More than half of the patients considered in the survey who wound up in the emergency room told doctors they had downed only energy drinks. In 2011, about 42 percent of the cases involved energy drinks in combination with alcohol or drugs, such as the stimulants Adderall or Ritalin.
"A lot of people don't realize the strength of these things. I had someone come in recently who had drunk three energy drinks in an hour, which is the equivalent of 15 cups of coffee," said Howard Mell, an emergency physician in the suburbs of Cleveland, who serves as a spokesman for the American College of Emergency Physicians. "Essentially he gave himself a stress test and thankfully he passed. But if he had a weak heart or suffered from coronary disease and didn't know it, this could have precipitated very bad things."
The findings came as concerns over energy drinks have intensified following reports last fall of 18 deaths possibly tied to the drinks — including a 14-year-old Maryland girl who died after drinking two large cans of Monster Energy drinks. Monster does not believe its products were responsible for the death.
Two senators are calling for the Food and Drug Administration to investigate safety concerns about energy drinks and their ingredients.
The energy drink industry says its drinks are safe and there is no proof linking its products to the adverse reactions.
Late last year, the FDA asked the U.S. Health and Human Services to update the figures its substance abuse research arm compiles about emergency room visits tied to energy drinks.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration's survey was based on responses it receives from about 230 hospitals each year, a representative sample of about 5 percent of emergency departments nationwide. The agency then uses those responses to estimate the number of energy drink-related emergency department visits nationwide.
The more than 20,000 cases estimated for 2011 represent a small portion of the annual 136 million emergency room visits tracked by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The FDA said it was considering the findings and pressing for more details as it undertakes a broad review of the safety of energy drinks and related ingredients this spring.
"We will examine this additional information ... as a part of our ongoing investigation into potential safety issues surrounding the use of energy-drink products," FDA spokeswoman Shelly Burgess said in a statement.
Beverage manufacturers fired back at the survey, saying the statistics were misleading and taken out of context.
"This report does not share information about the overall health of those who may have consumed energy drinks, or what symptoms brought them to the ER in the first place," the American Beverage Association said in a statement. "There is no basis by which to understand the overall caffeine intake of any of these individuals — from all sources."
Energy drinks remain a small part of the carbonated soft drinks market, representing only 3.3 percent of sales volume, according to the industry tracker Beverage Digest. Even as soda consumption has flagged in recent years, energy drinks sales are growing rapidly.
In 2011, sales volume for energy drinks rose by almost 17 percent, with the top three companies — Monster, Red Bull and Rockstar — each logging double-digit gains, Beverage Digest found. The drinks are often marketed at sporting events that are popular among younger people such as surfing and skateboarding.
From 2007 to 2011, the most recent year for which data was available, people from 18 to 25 were the most common age group seeking emergency treatment for energy drink-related reactions, the report found.
"We were really concerned to find that in four years the number of emergency department visits almost doubled, and these drinks are largely marketed to younger people," said Al Woodward, a senior statistical analyst with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration who worked on the report.
Emergency physician Steve Sun said he had seen an increase in such cases at the Catholic hospital where he works on the edge of San Francisco's Golden Gate Park.
"I saw one young man who had mixed energy drinks with alcohol and we had to admit him to the hospital because he was so dehydrated he had renal failure," Sun said. "Because he was young he did well in the hospital, but if another patient had had underlying coronary artery disease, it could have led to a heart attack."
- Created on 14 January 2013
(CNNMoney) -- An estimated 41.7 million workers, or roughly one in three employees in the United States, can not take sick days -- a fact that is bad news even to the workers who can stay home when they're ill.
As the nation's public health officials warned this week about the start of a flu epidemic, the disease is more widespread in part because millions of sick people trudge to work since they can't afford to stay home.
A study published last year in the American Journal of Public Health estimates that an additional 5 million people became infected with flu symptoms in 2009 alone due to workplace policies, such as lack of paid sick leave.
Nearly 80% of employees with full-time jobs do get paid sick days, and that drops to 25% of part-time workers, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The estimates don't include the millions of workers who are self-employed, for whom staying home can often mean being out of business for the day.
While providing sick days may seem expensive for employers, not giving them is also costly. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that even a typical flu season costs businesses about $10.4 billion in direct costs for hospitalizations and outpatient visits for adults. And that doesn't even include the cost of lost productivity and sales that comes along with the disease.
It's not just coworkers who are getting infected because of people showing up to work when sick, said Heather Boushey, senior economist at the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank. Sick children whose parents can't stay home with them are more likely to be sent to school or day care, spreading the infection to other children.
And many sick employees can spread a flu virus to customers and other members of the public. Boushey said about 80% of food-service workers don't have paid sick days. The BLS statisics show even 23% of workers in the healthcare and social assistance sector are without access to paid sick days.
Boushey said the United States is the only developed country without a law guaranteeing employees the right to paid sick days. She said even most undeveloped countries have laws that guarantee paid sick days.
"The U.S. is very much an outlier," she said.