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Survey: Economy taking health toll

BY Jim Frederick

CHICAGO One in five middle-aged and older adults are suffering health problems due to the financial stress stemming from the economic crisis, a new survey from AARP has found.

The organization reported today that the worrisome state of the economy has taken a measurable toll on the health of fully 20% of adults ages 45 and older. “Right now people are increasingly concerned about their jobs, retirement savings and simply being able to provide for their families,” said Bob Gallo, AARP Illinois senior state director. “It’s taking a major toll on their health.

“It’s a harsh irony that worrying about being able to afford health care is actually causing health problems,” Gallo added.

Among the report’s key findings:

  • One of five respondents 45 and older reported health problems due to financial stress.
  • Roughly one fifth, or 22% of survey respondents, said they have delayed seeing a doctor due to cost.
  • Sixteen percent had to use retirement savings or other savings to pay for medical care.
  • More than one in five have cut back on other expenses in order to afford their medical care.
  • One in six, 16%, are not confident they will be able to afford health care in the coming year.

The survey also found that health problems due to financial stress are having a greater effect on individuals 45 to 54 and 55 to 64, than on those ages 65 and older.

“Over the last five years health-insurance premiums for families have increased by 65%,” AARP reported. “The average cost of health insurance for an American family now exceeds the yearly income of a minimum wage worker.”

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, insurance premiums have increased 119% from 1999 to 2008, while workers’ earnings have risen just 29%.

“Clearly rising health care costs during difficult financial times [are] a major cause for concern for many people,” Gallo noted.

AARP said it would press for the expansion of health insurance through Medicaid to cover people between the ages of 50 to 64, and continue pushing for affordable and accessible health care at the national level. The full survey can be found here.  

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Study finds smoking may increase risk of atrial fibrillation

BY Michael Johnsen

DURHAM, N.C. Cigarette smoking may contribute to the risk of atrial fibrillation a study published this month in the American Heart Journal found.

Atrial fibrillation is a disorder found in about 2.2 million Americans, according to the American Heart Association. During atrial fibrillation, the heart’s two small upper chambers (the atria) quiver instead of beating effectively. Blood isn’t pumped completely out of them, so it may pool and clot. If a piece of a blood clot in the atria leaves the heart and becomes lodged in an artery in the brain, a stroke results. About 15% of strokes occur in people with atrial fibrillation.

The likelihood of developing atrial fibrillation increases with age. Three to 5 percent of people over 65 have atrial fibrillation.The association between cigarette smoking and the risk of atrial fibrillation was examined in 5,668 subjects without atrial fibrillation at baseline as part of the Rotterdam Study, a population-based cohort study among subjects over the age of 55. Researchers found that both current smokers and former smokers had increased risks of atrial fibrillation as compared to people who never smoked. No differences were found between men and women.

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Study: Treadmill use may help suppress appetites

BY Michael Johnsen

BETHESDA, Md. A vigorous 60-minute workout on a treadmill is more likely to help people lose weight by suppressing appetite than 90 minutes pumping iron, the American Physiological Study announced earlier this month, citing results from a recent study published in the American Journal of Physiology-Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology.

This line of research may eventually lead to more effective ways to use exercise to help control weight, stated senior author David Stensel of Loughborough University in the United Kingdom.

There are several hormones that help regulate appetite, but the researchers looked at two of the major ones, ghrelin and peptide YY.

Ghrelin is the only hormone known to stimulate appetite. Peptide YY suppresses appetite.

Researchers found that the treadmill session caused ghrelin levels to drop and peptide YY levels to increase, indicating the hormones were suppressing appetite. However, a weight-lifting session produced a mixed result. Ghrelin levels dropped, indicating appetite suppression, but peptide YY levels did not change significantly.

“The finding that hunger is suppressed during and immediately after vigorous treadmill running is consistent with previous studies indicating that strenuous aerobic exercise transiently suppresses appetite,” Stensel said. “The findings suggest a similar, although slightly attenuated response, for weight lifting exercise.”

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