OnCentral | Reporting on health and quality of life in South LA

Natural History Museum asks Angelenos to be scientists in new learning lab (Photos)

Kelsey Bailey, a political science major, looks under the microscope in a lab at the Natural History Museum. As of now, the BioSCAN project is using museum staff and USC students to sort the collected insects. Later this summer, the museum will begin accepting volunteers from the public to help out as well.
Mae Ryan/KPCC

L.A.'s Natural History Museum will unveil their new Nature Gardens and learning lab on June 9  and will be asking the public to help them bolster their staff of scientists.

A major project that will be run out of this new outdoor space is BioSCAN, a three-year investigation that attempts to catalogue all the insects in Los Angeles. This creepy-crawly census involves collecting hundreds, if not thousands, of bugs per week and sorting through them to identify different species.

Lead scientist and project coordinator Dean Pentcheff said they've already discovered insects that are completely new to science.

"We unfortunately have no magic devices that we can just pour the samples in and a list of species comes out," he said. "We actually need to pour them out under the microscope and pick them apart."


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Stories 'normalize' situation for patients making medical decisions in South LA

Hamdi Badar, a patient at UMMA Community Clinic in South Los Angeles, reviews his medical history with a nurse practitioner during a check-up. A pediatrician at another area clinic, St. John's Well Child and Family Center, says telling patients stories about people who have been in similar medical situations can help facilitate acceptance and make them understand that they aren't a special case.
Christopher Okula/KPCC

When health providers need to help their patients arrive at an important medical decision, they'll often turn to storytelling.

Dr. Joanna Choi, a pediatrician at St. John's Well Child and Family Center in South Los Angeles, said she does this regularly when talking with her young patients' parents.

"I've come to find that it's a really good tool for normalizing situations," Choi said. "Just saying that other people have had this experience before … is enough for them to feel like it's more OK for them to acknowledge and recognize that there is an issue."

A new study from the University of Missouri examined how medical decisions are affected when stories about other patients who have made similar decisions are included in decision aids. Rather than playing a persuasive role, decision aids are videos or literature designed to equip patients so they can make an informed medical decision. 


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Overweight, obese patients more likely to jump from doctor to doctor

Rude comments from medical staff, unsolicited weight-loss advice from doctors or improperly-sized medical equipment can drive patients living with obesity to switch providers, said researchers.
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Patients who are obese and overweight are more likely to repeatedly switch primary care providers, according to a new study, which can present a problem to the health of those patients.

A recent study published in the journal Obesity says "doctor shopping" may be more common among these patients because they tend to have more negative experiences with the health care system. That could mean inconsiderate comments about their weight from medical staff, unsolicited weight-loss advice from their health providers or improperly-sized office equipment.

South Los Angeles has the second-highest obesity rate in the county: 1 in 3 adults are obese. Dr. Derrick Butler, the associate medical director at T.H.E. Clinic, said providers should "treat it as a medical issue."

"Patients know they're obese," he said. "They walk outside, they see it, feel it; they look at the TV and see they're not thin. The provider needs to understand that and, I think, be matter-of-fact."


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Kellogg's, Coca-Cola offer more low-calorie foods, but are people healthier?

Powerhouse food and beverage corporations including Coca-Cola are trying to replace higher calorie items with lower-calorie ones, as part of an effort to reduce obesity in the U.S. So far the group of businesses, dubbed the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation, said they've reduced calories in the marketplace by 1.5 trillion.
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A group of corporate heavyweights including Hershey's, Kraft, Kellogg's and Coca-Cola announced last week that they had successfully made the U.S. marketplace healthier by reducing the number of calories on the shelf by 1.5 trillion.

While an expert applauded the move, she cautioned that there a lot of factors that come into play before it can be declared that Americans are getting healthier.

The Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation (HWCF), an organization led by 16 food and beverage companies, are continuing their campaign to reduce obesity in the U.S. and are attempting to do so by offering healthier, lower-calorie options at retailers across the country. This includes reducing the calorie content in some current products and reducing portion sizes of existing single-serving products.


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Latino, black children in California are drinking less soda, but more sugary fruit juice

Shoppers look at juices in a large chain food store in Glendale. A new study from UC San Francisco says young Latinos and blacks are drinking more juice, which one South L.A. nurse practitioner says isn't as healthy as many people think.
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Soda consumption among children in California is on the decline, according to a new UC study. But black and Latino children may be replacing it with a beverage that's just as sugary.

Writing in the journal Academic Pediatrics, researchers from UC San Francisco said young Latinos and blacks seem more likely to replace that soda with fruit juice.

Alexis Gomez, a family nurse practitioner at St. John's Well Child and Family Center in South Los Angeles, said one common misperception is that fruit juice is healthier than soda.

"The best thing would be to get juice that doesn't add sugar," he said. "But most of those juices are really expensive, and it's really hard for poor kids to afford that."

What low-income children can afford, he said, are the cheaper versions, where makers add more water and then add sugar to cover up for the diluted taste.


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