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October 2, 2013

Host: Ted Simons

ASU Obesity Research

  |   Video
  • Arizona State University researchers will discuss their findings regarding the causes of obesity. Dr. James Levine, co-director of the Mayo Clinic-ASU Obesity Solutions Initiative, will talk about the impact of sitting on weight gain. Alexandra Brewis Slade, director of operations for the ASU-Mayo Obesity Solutions Initiative, will talk about her research that compares obesity in different countries.
  • Jim Levine - Co-director of the Mayo Clinic/Arizona State University Obesity Solutions Initiative
  • Alexandra Brewis Slade - Director of Operations, Mayo Clinic/Arizona State University Obesity Solutions Initiative
Category: Medical/Health   |   Keywords: research, asu, obesity,

View Transcript
Ted Simons: Arizona State University researchers have been conducting new studies on obesity. Dr. James Levine, co-director of the Mayo Clinic/ASU Obesity Solutions Initiative is here to tell us more, as is Alexandra Brewis Slade, director of operations for the Obesity Solutions Initiative. Good to see you both here. Thank you for joining us.

Dr. James Levine: Absolute pleasure.

Alexandra Brewis Slade: Thank you.

Ted Simons: How serious is the obesity problem in America?

Dr. James Levine: Well, the way I look at it is, you know, we all know the statistics, that more than half of individuals living in America have a weight problem, a third have obesity. I think what concerns Alex and I more is this is like living in the valley and you see the storm coming in. We ain't seen nothing yet. Alex.

Ted Simons: So, it is escalating. It seems like it is escalating. Is it getting worse?

Alexandra Brewis Slade: It is. And it is a global problem, not just in Arizona, not just in the U.S. What we see in a lot of middle income developing countries now, a rate of acceleration of the problem and it is really speeding up. And as we get this new generation of kids with obesity, that is a completely new phenomenon and we don't know how that is going to play out when they hit adulthood.

Ted Simons: I want to get to your observations in other countries, societies and cultures in a second. Back to us here and this storm coming in, why didn't we see this storm? What's going on? I mean, something is going on out there.

Dr. James Levine: It is like anything in your family, you know. Like you're spending your credit card and you know you're overspending, but there are so many things you have to have in the house, you have to pay your bills and you know the impending doom is coming. In the scientific and policy community we have known that the childhood obesity epidemic is coming. We have seen it in the schools. We have seen it in our own kids. You just need to stand at a bus stop or travel on the light rail and you know what is happening.

Ted Simons: Okay. Are we not exercising enough? Are we not eating right? Has that changed considerably within the last decades to cause this?

Dr. James Levine: The answer is yes, not only are we not eating right and not only are we inactive all of the time, but we also have built this culture around us that makes being healthy very, very difficult. Yeah, we all want to make the right choices, but it is very, very difficult to step out, to eat healthy, to be able to afford to eat healthy and live right.

Ted Simons: Is it more difficult to do that or just to doggone easy to do the other?

Alexandra Brewis Slade: I think the interesting observation about why it has taken us so long to sort of caught on to this is that if you compare it to something like climate change where people are motivated to do things before they actually see the physical effects, obesity is really such a complex problem that people have, I think, there is almost this sort of comfort in deniability, because we can't even fix it for ourselves. It is incredibly difficult to lose weight. It doesn't matter how motivated you are. It doesn't matter how many self-help books you’ve got or even how much money you've got. It is very, very hard to do. If we can't do it individually, then doing it collectively is even a bigger ask.

Ted Simons: Stress, genetics, lack of sleep, exercising, eating, are we seeing it just affect this person does A, B, C, they're not obese. This person does A, B, C and they have a problem. Are we seeing that out there?

Dr. James Levine: It is interesting, the resiliency factor that somehow, some individuals, the miracle to me is that anyone is lean. In fact, we have done intensive studies to try to understand what is it about two people who sit next to each other at work, but one person is lean and one person is battling obesity? What is the difference between the two individuals? But it is -- the stress may be the same, but we all know this. We all deal with stress so differently. You know, some of us need more sleep than others and some of us have, you know, two, three jobs and -- and so many of my patients are rushing around all of the time. Not only are they stressed out, it is almost impossible to gather the time to have either a healthy walk or a healthy meal.

Ted Simons: I want to get to healthy walks in a second. I know you are big on that, standing up and walking.

Dr. James Levine: Big time.

Ted Simons: You have been all over the world. You studied cultures all over the world. Are they having the same kind of problems?

Alexandra Brewis Slade: Well, it's interesting. A lot of the middle income countries like China and India are predicted to have massive health care collapses in the next decade or so. One of the things we are seeing in our research as social scientists, it is not just the physical issues and cost issues around obesity, it’s also the social issues. We are seeing a globalization of what we call fat stigma, the idea that we judge people because of their weight. This is problematic. Because we know that the stigma also makes it more difficult. If you blame people for their weight, it actually makes it more difficult for them to lose weight and keep it off.

Ted Simons: Can you blame people -- I hear that all of the time -- can you blame someone for not being able to lose weight?

Dr. James Levine: You have to stop the blame game. You just need to spend time with individuals who are battling with obesity to understand that -- who would want to have obesity in modern society? You are stigmatized, health problems, you can't get around the way you want to. Who would choose that for themselves? No one would. And again, when you actually talk to people who are battling this and you listen to their concerns, and the things that are going on every single day in people's lives, one starts to understand that people want to make the right choices, were they either available or were they had the time and facility to actually enjoy them.

Ted Simons: Are you seeing that around the world? It would seem to me that in some cultures, maybe not too long ago, obesity may not have been considered such a bad thing.

Alexandra Brewis Slade: That is the case. We went out about three years ago, did a survey across a whole range of societies where that was the case historically and we found that that is not the case anymore. So, that's very concerning. But one of the things we have found and some of the rates in other countries are higher than the U.S., but it seems to be more of a politically correct factor. It is not that Americans are not thinking as bad of things over overweight people, they're not so quick to say them because they know that they’re not meant to. There is this really interesting global problem, but I think one of the things about -- Jim very much tackles these issues from the perspective of someone that works with patients. But as a social scientist, I always come back to the observation that in the U.S. now, poverty is the major predictor of obesity. And if that is the case, then you really have to look at the structural effect as well. That takes us out of thinking about it is something to do with individual behavior. If it is very difficult to be slim when you have a lack of resources, then that's something that I think we have to look at socially, structurally, how we build our cities, how we organize ourselves, how we design our workplaces.

Ted Simons: With that idea, let's get back to you and this idea. You kind of invented this desk where you stand up -- you are a big stand-up guy and walking guy. You don't like sitting down.

Dr. James Levine: I'm feeling like constrained sitting here.

Ted Simons: Talk to us about this.

Dr. James Levine: But, you know, one of the differentiators between individuals who are lean and those who are battling obesity, those individuals who are lean are up and moving around two and a quarter hours a day more than people with obesity. Who has two and a quarter hours a day to go to a gym and so on and so forth. We have been very interested in finding ways to slot, to inject activity time into the workplace and into schools. And I would like to emphasize something Alex just said. There have been fantastic data right across the country, 3,300 counties in the United States that demonstrate that not only are areas that have high levels of poverty associated with, you know, food deserts and low quality food but these are the areas, too, where the people are most sedentary.

Ted Simons: You said up and moving around. Then you said don't have time to go to the gym. You don't mean sweating it out and doing the Richard Simmons business out here. We won't go there.

Dr. James Levine: Let's not.

Ted Simons: But the idea of literally get up and go to one room to another, walk to the mailbox instead of -- what?

Dr. James Levine: That's exactly right. Walk and talk meetings. If you are at work, the opportunity to get up and move throughout the day whether it is a walk and talk meeting, instead of emailing someone two doors down. Just get up and walk there. When the phone goes, just get up and pace around. The data is clear if you can break up your sitting time, it is a very powerful way of staving off bad metabolism for diabetes and hypertension and so on.

Ted Simons: Do you think that is what is happening in other cultures, that people are perhaps more sedentary? The cultures that went out and did things, everything is modernized now and we are sitting more.

Alexandra Brewis Slade: That is part of the capitalist dream. As you move into a cash economy, you are less likely to be farming, you are less likely to be fishing, less likely to be walking. And as economies modernize, one of the things that happens is that the type of jobs that people have become much more sedentary. As a massive global treatment that has been going on for the last several decades.

Dr. James Levine: We actually studied people living in agricultural communities in Jamaica before they moved into Kingston in the city. What we discovered, when they live the capitalist dream, people half the amount of activity that they do. We are not talking about anyone running. We are talking about halving the activity that is the natural way the human is meant to be.

Ted Simons: And there might be increased stress. They're not halving their mental activity, they’re halving their physical activity.

Dr. James Levine: Absolutely. The stress builds up and one eats more to feel more comfortable with oneself and the cycle builds.

Ted Simons: I did want to mention though, you did invent the desk treadmill.

Dr. James Levine: Indeed, I did. And that is being sort of -- there are tens of thousands of these out there. And it, you know, I -- I was thought to be crazy the day we came up with it but it has proven to be a good idea.

Ted Simons: Interesting conversation. Good information. Good to have you both here.

Government Shutdown Local Impact

  |   Video
  • Arizona is already feeling the effects of the government shutdown. The Grand Canyon National Park is closed, and civilian workers have been furloughed at Luke Air Force Base. Arizona State University economist Dennis Hoffman and economist Jim Rounds of Elliott D. Pollack and Company will discuss the impacts of the shutdown on Arizona.
  • Dennis Hoffman - Economist, Arizona State University
  • Jim Rounds - Economist, Elliott D. Pollack and Company
Category: Government   |   Keywords: government, shutdown, impact, arizona,

View Transcript
Ted Simons: The Grand Canyon National Park is closed, and civilian workers have been furloughed at Luke Air Force Base. Those are just some of the indications that the federal government shutdown is being felt in Arizona. For more, we welcome ASU economist Dennis Hoffman, and economist Jim Rounds of the Elliott D. Pollack and Company. Good to see you both here. Thank you for joining us. All right. Dennis, we see a little bit here, a little bit there. How is this shut down going to impact Arizona?

Dennis Hoffman: Well, you know, probably in terms of job loss, the bigger impact is obviously D.C., because most of these folks work in D.C. But a lot of these agencies have staff distributed across the country. So, you're dealing with significant numbers of agency reductions. And they're going to affect all of the states. And the thing that is harder to kind of get after is what type of private sector job loss will there be? Around the Grand Canyon, think about the hotels, restaurants, transportation services, almost all of which are private sector related. What is going to happen to employment in those kind of places? So, this is a big deal. I understand some folks thinking that it is just a D.C. issue, and it is just Congress having a little tiff, but 800,000 jobs, the equivalent of 800,000 jobs. Takes this economy about five months to generate 800,000 jobs and we got rid of them in one day.

Ted Simons: Is this a big deal?

Jim Rounds: Yeah, I think it depends on how long it lasts. So, if we're dealing with a week, I'm not worried about it at all. I wouldn't change the forecast. We're dealing with 40 out of 2,080 hours in the year for an average person. If it is something that lasts two, three, four weeks, the last time we went through this it lasted 21 days, and then it becomes a bigger deal. It also becomes a bigger deal because we get into the next policy issue, the debt ceiling. Things potentially could really spiral out of control. But if they solve it this week, I will not be nearly as concerned.

Ted Simons: The last government shutdown was 1995, we had 20 some odd days there. What kind of damage was done to the economy after that?

Jim Rounds: Stronger economy. We have been in recovery mode for quite a while. But it is kind of like that it is not the age of the cars, it's the miles. We haven't gotten that far in terms of the economic recovery. The economy is still pretty weak, but the size of the economy is quite large. The worst estimate I saw is if this lasts three, four weeks, it’s a $55 billion hit. And it was going to lop about half of the GDP growth in the fourth quarter. I think that study might be overstated some. But it gets back to the duration issue. If it lasts long, if we can solve it this week, it is not a big deal. If it gets beyond that, we could have some problems.

Dennis Hoffman: Mid 90's, consumer confidence was north of 100. We're like 30 points below that right now. As Jim said very accurately, we're in recovery mode, and I think it would be legitimate to worry that with an economy that is actually positioned, if you just look at consumption, which has been the real challenge over the last five to six years. Auto sales, consumer durables, everything seems to be progressing quite nicely. Employment growth is not. It is disappointing. But the consumer is warming. And it is warming month after month, and the consumption data look pretty good. Housing has warmed. So, the question would be is this going to be a shock to confidence? The old CNN effect. This buzz around a government shutdown and all of the concern about these kinds of job losses, is that going to make people hesitate?

Jim Rounds: Boy, that hasn't been discussed enough, I think, consumer confidence. Just confidence in the government in general, and I think everybody would have been surprised if the federal government actually worked through this in a -- in a mature manner. I think the new normal is that expect some disruptions. In fact, many economists’ forecasts assume that some goofy stuff is going to happen in Washington. But it's difficult to know if we're going to have a lasting impact and are we going to have this cumulative effect over time because people really don't have faith in Washington. The people that have been furloughed, they're on a week off of work right now. If it becomes three or four weeks, it is almost like a layoff. They're going to change their habits. The psyche of the American consumer will change a bit and we might regress some and that would be really disappointing.

Ted Simons: If the economy is more fragile, let's say than it was in 1995 and this goes the same amount of days as 1995, will whatever damage is done, will that recovery take longer than it did in 1995?

Jim Rounds: It's hard to tell. We were right at the point where we were starting to see more solid economic data. I don't buy that we're going to lose 1.3 percent off of the expected rate of growth of around two and a half for the fourth quarter if it went on for three or four weeks, but it is possible. That's a problem. Now, if this is temporary, and these aren't really lost jobs, it's just people not getting paid. We have that shock to the economy one year but then we're not losing the jobs going forward. It is a different situation than a permanent job loss. So the analysis is different than say the sequester, when we knew that we were going to be permanently losing a lot of jobs.

Ted Simons: Talk about the sequester, how does this impact – I mean we’ve already got the sequester – it’s still happening.

Dennis Hoffman: Well, yes, that is the irony, I think, Ted. A clean continuing resolution passed out of Congress right now as I understand it, the ones on the table, would contain a continuation of sequester. So, if I'm a proponent, I am using hypothetical, if I were advancing streamlining government, you know, there is some victory to celebrate here. But evidently, it is not enough victory, and so, therefore, we have log jam.

Ted Simons: We have got this elephant in the room, this government shutdown, yet over in the corner, Godzilla --

Dennis Hoffman: We have a few elephants in the room.

Ted Simons: Well we have Godzilla in the corner with the debt ceiling. Talk about what happens if this debate moves into the debt ceiling debate, and that sounds like real trouble.

Jim Rounds: Well, the government shutdown is more of a bummer. If we can get this resolved within a couple of weeks, hopefully this week. It is disappointing for a lot of people, a lot of specific individuals it is extremely disappointing. But for the economy as a whole it is not as big of a deal. If we get to a point where we don't adequately address the debt ceiling, that is something brand new that we have not ever done before where we haven't been able to take care of our other financial obligations. This would be all new territory for the U.S. and that could be something that could really cause disruptions. That is the type of thing where people do change their economic forecast.

Dennis Hoffman: Indeed. Flashing back to Lehman, the take-away from Lehman Weekend for me was when I heard that we came very close to defaulting on commercial paper. What does that mean? That means that most business, many businesses wouldn't have been able to meet payroll. So, all of the sudden we go from, you know, being concerned about the economy to not having a check on the next Friday. That was Lehman. If we flirt with this, and actually go down this road, and I -- and I still have my doubts just simply because, you know, people at some point have to wake up and recognize the severity of this. But if we would choose to go down this road, really play hard ball into a debt ceiling debate, it is going to be worse than Lehman. So then we’ve got to go back and revisit is the fall of 2013 going to be anywhere close to the fall of 2008. Goodness, I hope not.

Ted Simons: We know how long it’s taken to recover from the fall of 2008. How close do you tip-toe to this particular issue and not do damage? Because it would seem like the psychological damage of even saying it’s a possibility is out there?

Jim Rounds: So with the shutdown longer term, it really is just for show right now. The fact that they would fence off some of these national monuments, where it’s just a field and a stone statue or something like that, it’s all show. I actually couldn't get on to some government web sites today trying to update economic data. That's just ridiculous. That is for show. But with --

Dennis Hoffman: It’s more than show, if there is nobody there, you have security attacks you have to worry about. If there’s not folks there monitoring those web sites, they have got potential issues. So, yeah, we have – the Census is done, the BLS is down, we have no labor data on Friday.

Jim Rounds: I don’t mean the economic issue is a show. I mean the political garbage going on is mainly a show. The discussion they're having right now and the debate, they really shouldn't be having right now. I was referring to more that being a show.

Dennis Hoffman: Fair enough.

Jim Rounds: The debt ceiling is more I think a pure economic issue. They will bring in some of the tea party comments, how we can't keep having our government expenditures greatly exceed revenues, but that is not a short-term resolution. That is something that has to be dealt with over the longer term. If politics turn and somebody wants to suddenly try to take care of this differential over a month or two, it is going to be a disaster. Some people need to pull back their expectations a bit.

Dennis Hoffman: Exactly right. We have very long-term problems and very serious ones. Sadly I haven't heard those discussed much at all from either side. And that is dealing with the long-term legacy obligations around things like Medicare.

Ted Simons: What does all of this say to the world's investors? With the shutdown and Goddzilla over there in the corner? I mean, do the world investors, do they have anywhere else to go? I’ve heard who cares what the world -- this is America, they will be here come what may. Is that a little out there?

Dennis Hoffman: It just sends another signal that, you know, the U.S., they question whether or not the U.S. has their act together. You know, we pointed our fingers and laughed about Greece and southern Europe for a number of years. I mean, it is very possible that a lot of folks around this planet are finding some humor in our dysfunction.

Ted Simons: Finding some humor, but will they do anything with their money? Will they do anything about their investments? Will this cause them to cause, delay, slow --

Jim Rounds: Not right now. If it is not extended -- we're sending a bad signal. Actually we're sending a perfectly accurate signal. We can't get our act together in D.C. That is what we have been sending for the last few years. You even saw with the stock market, the first day of government shutdown, the Dow closed higher than on the prior day. I think that most people are expecting this is going to be resolved short-term. If this goes on for a longer period of time, then we bring in that debt ceiling issue and then you might start to see investors pull back. You might start to see people feeling less confident purchasing bonds and then all of the sudden we're paying more. I mean, you can do an hour show just on the ripple effect.

Dennis Hoffman: The debt ceiling is the big deal and it's serious. It really -- historically -- folks debated in Congress, but they didn't hold hostage programs around this debt ceiling issue. At least not anywhere near like they have in this Congress.

Ted Simons: We should mention that tomorrow night we will discuss the political ramifications of what's going on. The fall-outs there-in. We wanted to hear about the economic aspects. Good to have you both on. Thank you for joining us.