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The Takeaway: Romney Presses Social Security Issue; Heavier Women Less Strong; Health Insurance's "Good News"

Fighting Over Social Security in Florida: As Republican presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Rick Perry gear up for a debate in Orlando this evening, Romney is pushing the Social Security issue hard. No doubt he's banking on support for his leave-Social-Security-alone attitude in a state that, all stereotypes aside, really is highly-populated with retirees. Romney criticized Perry's contention that the matter should be left up to individual states, saying this "does not work in any way, shape or form." A Perry spokesperson said Romney is "distorting the truth and trying to scare senior citizens.

Perry has made clear ( in his book, and in recent GOP debates) that he is, uh, no Social Security fan (to put it mildly), but he hasn't said much about how, specifically, he would re-engineer the program that millions of older Americans depend on. "The idea that we're going to write a Social Security reform plan today is a bit of a stretch from my perspective," he told Time magazine. Something tells me Romney's not going to let him get off that easy ...

Less Weight, More Power: For years, doctors have thought thin women are the ones who have to worry most about losing muscle mass with age. But a new study of older women finds those that are overweight actually have less leg strength and power than their normal-weight counterparts. "With two-thirds of Americans overweight or obese and the elderly population expected to double by year 2030," says study author and kinesiology professor Dain LaRoche, "we are going to see a large portion of people who are disabled due to the concurrent gaining of weight and loss of strength."

LaRoche and his team set out to measure the impact of weight on older women's leg strength, walking speed and power-all factors that affect daily living activities like rising from a chair or climbing stairs. While there wasn't much difference in the absolute strength of overweight and normal-weight participants, when strength-to-weight ratio was calculated the overweight women had an average of 24 percent less strength; they also showed a 20 percent slower walking speed and 38 percent less power. This difference in power - the rate at which strength is applied - is especially bad, says LaRoche, because power is even more closely tied to physical activity and fall risk than strength.

"Everything pointed to the fact that it was the extra fat that these people were carrying that was really limiting their mobility," he says. "Being of a normal body weight lets you perform activities of daily living and live on your own longer."

Weight-loss, of course, might be the best option for overweight adults (in terms of improving overall health along with leg strength and power), but gaining strength is the easier route-and LaRoche encourages it. While most people are not successful at losing weight, " even the oldest old people can have dramatic increases in strength."

Insurance Costs Rising, But Not As Much: In what passes as 'good news' in terms of health insurance and health care costs these days: A survey from consultant Mercer found the cost of employer-based health insurance will rise less this year than in the previous few. In 2012, employees are only expected to pay about 5.4 percent more for health insurance, compared to the 6.5 percent hike they saw this year. This is actually the smallest increase since 1997-but no thanks to actual declines in health care costs. In fact, health care costs overall are continuing to rise much faster than inflation, but employers are shielding workers from paying more for insurance per se by raising deductibles and co-payments.

Fountain of Youth Studies: Scientists have  found a  reverse  way to the aging of human stem cells (and just in time, because our old anti-aging hope-'longevity genes'- isn't holding up so well in light of new research). Because stem cells are responsible for helping old or damaged tissue regenerate, researchers say their new finding could lead to treatments for a host of problems related to aging tissue damage. Hmm ... haven't we heard all this before?

Thursday Quick Hits: A blood test to diagnose heart attacks? ... BrightFarms wants to grow food on the roof of your supermarket ... Cable news talk of deficit reduction and economic policy is short on actual economists ... Even during the recession, east coast urban economies continued to get more affluent ... And Michelle Obama says her husband's gray hair is "sexy."

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