Reporting on health and quality of life in South LA

Hip replacements and how less salt could save lives: In health news today

salt shaker

Michael May/Flickr Creative Commons

Cutting our salt consumption, said researchers, could mean preventing up to 500,000 early deaths.

In today's health news:

Your food probably doesn't need more salt – and in fact, it'd be good if you stopped adding so much. That's according to the American Heart Association, which the Los Angeles Times says published a study that says a steady reduction in the salt we consume could save around 500,000 people from dying early over the course of a decade. If our salt consumption drops 40 percent, added researchers, we could see up to 850,000 lives saved.

A report that examined where federal funding for breast cancer research goes found that too little– about 10 percent – is funneled toward finding environmental causes of the disease and potential preventive measures. The New York Times explains that environmental factors include alcohol consumption, exercise habits, exposures to certain chemicals and socioeconomic status.

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Feds recover $4.2 billion in health care fraud, abuse

Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Money lost to health care fraud in the Medicaid or Medicare programs could be used to pay doctors to treat patients in need, said a South L.A. public health expert.

Two federal agencies announced on Monday the recovery of more than $4.2 billion in health care fraud investigations in 2012.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) said for every dollar it spends on investigating health care-related fraud and abuse, it recovers $7.90. Over the last four years, it's recovered nearly $15 billion.

Last fiscal year, that meant 1,131 new investigations, 2,148 potential defendants and 826 health care fraud-related convictions.

Brietta Clark, a professor at Loyola Law School who specializes in health care law and access issues, said some health care fraud "looks like any other fraud": Someone's billing the government for a service he or she isn't actually performing. But it can quickly become more complicated.

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Immigration, contraception, poverty: One local expert on what a new pope could mean for all 3

Pope Benedict Visits Turkey ? Day Two

Carsten Koall/Getty Images

Pope Benedict XVI on a 2006 visit to Turkey. He's the first pontiff to step down since 1415, when Pope Gregory XII abdicated to put an end to the Western Schism.

For the first time since 1415, the pope – the head of the universal Catholic Church – has stepped down.

Pope Benedict XVI became the first to abdicate his post since Pope Gregory XII did so nearly 600 years ago – and the latter pontiff only did it to put an end to the Western Schism.

Speaking to a group of Vatican cardinals on Monday morning, the 85-year-old Benedict said he would step down effective Feb. 28 because his "strengths due to an advanced age are no longer suited" to his heading the Church.

Fr. Thomas Rausch, a Jesuit professor of theological studies at Loyola Marymount University, said it's not likely a new pope will change much in terms of the Church's stances on or responses to hot-button issues like contraception, poverty or immigration. For one thing, all of those who are eligible to select the next pope – men known as cardinals – were appointed by Benedict or his predecessor, Pope John Paul II – both of whom were very much on the same page, doctrine-wise.

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Hearts on fire: Chocolate, conversation candies dominate Valentine's Day sales

Flickr via twoacrephotography

This Valentine's Day, people across the country will spend $1.6 billion on candy.

No matter if you're casually dating, completely in love, or nursing the pain of a breakup, you can still enjoy the best part of the Valentine's Day: candy!

The drugstore candy aisle have gone red, pink and edible. Hershey Kisses bulk up to their heavyweight, seven-ounce size. Shelves are lined with sweetheart candies that read "ANGEL" or "TE AMO."

If the less goofy and more gourmet is your thing, See's Candies is selling Scotchmallow candy hearts, while Ghirardelli has cranked out red heart boxes of chocolate goodies.

But no matter which sweets tug at your heart, you and plenty of other Valentine lovers will buy lots of them. 

According to the National Retail Federation (NRF), more than half of V-Day lovebirds will buy candy, spending a total of $1.6 billion across the country. Each person will spend an average of  $130 total for the holiday on chocolates, flowers, gifts and more.

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EPA posts greenhouse gas emissions data for 2011

la smog

Veronica Jauriqui/Flickr Creative Commons

In 2011, 80 Los Angeles County facilities reported emissions amounting to more than 26 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents.

The amount of toxic chemicals in California's air rose 10 percent between 2010 and 2011, which was more than the overall increase of 8 percent nationwide during that same timeframe.

So reported the Sacramento Bee, which was looking at new data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The EPA posted the greenhouse gas emissions data, citing transparency and the need "to identify opportunities to cut pollution, minimize wasted energy, and save money."

Across the U.S., nearly 8,000 facilities in nine industry sectors – including power plants, refineries, chemicals and waste – reported what equaled 3.3 billion metric tons of carbon-dioxide emissions. California accounted for about a third of that, with 491 facilities reporting more than 1 billion metric tons.

L.A. County, for its part, saw 80 facilities report more than 26 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents.

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