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Historically low teen birth rates and the pain of heartbreak: In health news today

Teen birth rates are at a historic low, said federal health officials, which some experts attribute to more open conversations about teen pregnancy, contraception and abstinence.
Daniel Lobo/Flickr Creative Commons

In today's health news:

Teen birth rates are at a historic low, say federal health officials, and the number of babies being born prematurely or at a low birth weight is declining. U.S. News & World Report says experts attribute the drop in teen pregnancies partly to more open conversations about teen pregnancy, contraception and abstinence, and the decrease in preterm babies to better prenatal care.

The Department of Health & Human Services announced Monday that it recovered a record $4.2 billion in healthcare fraud investigations last year, with the help of the Department of Justice. The Hill says the feds claim to recover $7.90 for every dollar spent investigating health care fraud and abuse.

HealthDay reports on a new study which finds that the effects of exercise on a man's risk of prostate cancer may vary by race: Among white men, it appears to reduce the risk, but that same effect wasn't seen among black men.


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Study: Type 1 diabetes rate among young children grew 70 percent over 2 decades

An insulin pen. Type 1 diabetes occurs when the body produces little to no insulin, and type 2 diabetes can develop when the body becomes resistant to it.

Local health care providers say type 2 diabetes is way more prevalent than the type 1 variety in South Los Angeles – that's true for both adults and children.

In fact, that seems to be true across the board: Up to 95 percent of all diagnosed diabetes cases are type 2.

Obesity is the primary risk factor for type 2 diabetes, which can develop when the body becomes resistant to insulin. Genetics also play a role in a person's development of the disease.

Type 1, on the other hand, is what happens when little to no insulin is produced. Experts still aren't sure what causes it, although it's most often diagnosed in children, teenagers or young adults.

With child obesity on the rise, doctors knew that rising rates of type 2 diabetes among youngsters would be close behind. That problem is especially acute in South L.A., where the rates of child obesity are among the county's highest. The trend is so worrisome that the American Academy of Pediatrics recently released the first official guidelines – ever – regarding how to treat the disease in children.


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Experts project that by 2050, nearly 14 million in the US will have Alzheimer's

At last check, about 36,000 South L.A. adults said they were caring for someone with Alzheimer's, one of the most notorious forms of dementia.

Unless medical experts arrive at some sort of breakthrough, the number of people with Alzheimer's in the U.S. will only continue to grow, and is expected to triple by 2050.

That's according to new projections from the American Academy of Neurology, which appeared in the journal Neurology, appropriately.

Alzheimer's disease is a form of dementia that affects memory, thinking and behavior, usually among the elderly. It gradually worsens over time, and usually first manifests as forgetfulness. Those with the disease's most severe form may cease to understand language, recognize members of their own family or perform basic activities like eating and dressing themselves.

According to current estimates, 5.4 million Americans live with the disease. The latest data from L.A. County's public health department estimated that in 2007, at least 147,000 Angelenos were living with it.


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Low-calorie fast foods make better business, healthier customers

Fast food and other chain restaurants that offer low-calorie menu increase their amount of customer traffic and profits.
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Not only are McDonald's yogurt parfait, Burger King's veggie burger and other low-calorie fast food items better for customers' health, they also may be highly profitable.

According to a new study from the Hudson Institute, a non-profit policy research organization, fast food and sit-down restaurant chains that expanded their low-calorie offerings also ramped up their income.

"The findings of this study clearly demonstrate that between 2006 and 2011 lower-calorie foods and beverages were the key growth engine for the restaurants studied," the report says.

Researchers analyzed the sales and customer traffic at 21 major chain restaurants, including Applebee's, Olive Garden, Taco Bell and KFC, and determined places that served and continually expanded their options for low-calorie foods also increased their business.

This study defined low-calorie as an entree (salads, sandwiches, etc.) that is less than 500 calories; a side dish, appetizer or dessert that was less than 150 calories; and a beverage that was less than 50 calories for an 8 ounce serving.

To put these numbers in perspective, main dishes at McDonald's that have less than 500 calories include the Southern Style Crispy Chicken Sandwich, the Double Cheeseburger and a six-piece Chicken McNugget serving -- so these may be "low" in calories but not high in overall nutritional quality.

Still, they're a step in the right direction according to the study "Lower Calorie Foods: It's Just Good For Business." Researchers conclude that healthier options do correlate to profitability, and if restaurant chains see more proof of that, they likely will expand their offering and marketing of low-calorie items.

"Restaurant chains now have incentive to lower their calorie footprints to enhance their performance and to help address high obesity rates," the report concludes.

In South L.A., about 33 percent of adults are obese according to L.A. County health officials. Over the last 30 years across the country, childhood obesity has doubled while adolescent obesity as tripled, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

South L.A. has so many fast food restaurants that in 2011, city officials banned new chains from setting up shop in the area. Community organizations are trying to attract more grocery stores and eateries with healthier options, but in the meantime, encouraging low-calorie options at existing fast food chains may be a step in the right direction.


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Patients at federally qualified clinics tend to have better care, lower costs

South Central Family Health Center is one of a handful of federally-qualified community health centers that serves the South Los Angeles area.
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Most of the uninsured living in South L.A. don't receive health care from federally qualified community health clinics.

Instead, says Dr. Felix Aguilar, the president and CEO of UMMA Community Clinic, most southside Angelenos access care through urgent care clinics. The signs on these places may not say "urgent care," he said – oftentimes they'll call themselves clinica familias or name themselves after a saint, but they essentially provide urgent care services.

"And they're cash clinics," he added.

Meaning you pay per service, rather than just a single co-pay, as folks with health insurance usually do. Cash clinics have a tendency to "nickel and dime" their patients, said Aguilar.

"Fifty dollars for the visit, so much more for the medicine, so much more for the X-rays," he said. That adds up – and so people start doing their own "economic analyses," deciding what they can and cannot afford. Preventive care usually gets the short end of that stick.


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