Health Buzz: Sugared Beverage Tax and Other Health News

Why it's important to shed excess belly fat; Medicare Advantage premiums may rise next year.

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A Tax on Sugared Beverages?

A tax on sugary soft drinks would result in health benefits no matter how the revenue from the tax would be used, according to a New England Journal of Medicine article written by New York City Health Commissioner Thomas Frieden and Kelly Brownell, a Yale University professor and director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity. But the popularity of such a tax, they conclude, would increase if the proceeds were dedicated to childhood obesity prevention programs, including media campaigns, physical activity facilities and programs, and more-healthful food options in schools. One poll showed that 52 percent of New York residents said they supported a "soda tax," and that figure increased to 72 percent when they were told that the money raised from such a tax would be used to help prevent obesity. A tax of one penny per ounce could decrease the intake of sugary beverages by more than 10 percent and generate revenue of $1.2 billion in New York State alone, Frieden and Brownell predict.

If you're concerned about your family's sugar intake, be wary of fruit drinks when grocery shopping for your household; opt for real fruits and vegetables and drink water instead.

Why It's Important to Shed Excess Belly Fat

If you're like most women, you probably know whether you're shaped like an apple (big waist, small hips, thin legs) or a pear (small waist, big hips and thighs). And you probably have heard that it's better healthwise to be a pear. Having too much fat on your belly increases your risk of age-related diseases like heart disease and diabetes, Deborah Kotz reports. In fact, a study published this week in the journal Circulation: Heart Failure indicates that having a large waist size ups your risk of heart failure, a condition that's often fatal. A second study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that exercise doesn't harm those with heart failure and could actually provide some benefits.

Learn why excess belly fat is so dangerous and how shrinking your waist size can reduce dangerous inflammation in your body.

Medicare Advantage Premiums May Rise $40 to $70 Monthly in 2010

Next year, seniors enrolled in Medicare Advantage plans may have to pony up an extra $40 to $70 a month in premiums or see services reduced by a comparable amount, according to estimates by the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association based on new plan payment rates that the government announced this week. "The most likely thing that plans will be forced to do is to change their benefit packages, increase benefit premiums, or increase cost sharing," says Kris Haltmeyer, the deputy executive director for legislative and regulatory policy for the association, which represents 39 independent Blues plans across the country. Collectively, the plans cover 1.5 million Medicare Advantage members, Michelle Andrews reports. Altogether, roughly 10 million seniors are in Medicare Advantage plans.

The Obama administration had signaled for months that it planned to trim the higher reimbursement rates that the government currently pays for beneficiaries in Medicare Advantage plans. Some expect to see fewer zero-premium plans offered in the future and a reduction in benefits.

—January W. Payne

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