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In an age of extinction, what role do zoos and aquariums have in conservation?

June 22, 2018

New book explores stories of hope and despair in global biodiversity crisis

The last known male northern white rhinoceros is dead.

Sudan was a captive rhino that lived at a zoo in Czechia for 34 years before being moved to the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya, where he died in March of this year, apparently from complications related to old age. When Sudan was just 2 years old, he was captured along with five other white rhinos and spent the rest of his life in confinement.

After their subspecies was declared extinct in the wild, Sudan and three other northern white rhinos were relocated to the conservancy with hopes that a breeding program would be more successful in a more "natural" environment. It was not.

Humans are causing potentially irreversible harm to wild animal species and their habitats. Due to habitat damage and fragmentation, poaching and pollution, scores of wild species and ecosystems around the world are threatened; many are on the brink of extinction.

At the same time, zoos find themselves on the front lines of conservation — trying to figure out what their role is in tackling this global biodiversity crisis.

In his new book titled “The Ark and Beyond: The Evolution of Zoo and Aquarium Conservation,” Arizona State University School of Life Sciences Professor Ben Minteer brings together an impressive roster of authors that collectively traces the history of zoos and aquariums and investigates their potential role as conservation organizations. 

“Zoos have always been somewhat invested in conservation. As someone who works in the ethics and history of conservation, it’s interesting to find out where that came from, what explains this recent push in the zoo community toward conservation, and what they mean by it,” said Minteer. “As it turns out, they don’t all mean the same thing. I was particularly interested in the challenges of zoos making this push, and potentially the opportunities.” 

Minteer has served as the Arizona Zoological Society Endowed Chair at Arizona State University for the past five years. He has recently been renewed in the position through 2023. Moving forward, he plans to develop several projects that build from the insights of “The Ark and Beyond,” including one exploring zoos and their relationships to the wild, and collaborative work with the Phoenix Zoo focused on conservation psychology and zoo visitor experience. 

“There is definitely a shift in the community going on right now — not across the board,” said Minteer, “but among many leading zoos and aquariums. Although zoos have been making moves toward conservation for decades now, this commitment seems to be getting deeper and far more serious. The institution is changing, and the end result might be something quite different from the zoos of old.”

Minteer edited the book, along with ASU professors Jane Maienschein and James P. Collins. The book, published by the University of Chicago Press, features 30 chapters from four dozen authors including zoo and aquarium leaders, academic biologists, historians, ethicists and social scientists. Here, Minteer answers a few questions about the work.

Question: What are the big takeaways from the book?

Answer: Zoos have really been in the conservation business for a long time, at least 100 years or more. They have a claim to being wildlife-protection organizations. The old zoo idea was to preserve and display animals so people can come to see them, be entertained by them, and to indirectly benefit wildlife protection by making the public interested in exotic animals. By the early 20th century with the Bronx Zoo, we see the start of more direct conservation efforts with the breeding and reintroduction of the American bison, which was then near extinction. This became a model, and zoos do this quite well.

The other piece of the story is that by the late 20th century, zoos began offering more professionally run education programs, partnering with communities and supporting field conservation programs. While some conservation leaders think zoos are spreading themselves too thin, others think zoos should and will become more like field-based conservation programs. 

Q: Is there an outside pressure on zoos to be involved in conservation?

A: Zoos are trying to navigate all of this. They face a global extinction crisis — what many believe is the sixth mass extinction event on Earth. They are staring that down, trying to do more to arrest it and are becoming more robust in terms of their educational programs. And zoos are working to bring more people through their gates to transform them by giving them experiences that will encourage pro-conservation behaviors. Some recent empirical studies suggest that zoos are having some positive impact in these areas.

Q: Are zoos connecting with researchers in the field?

A: Yes. The Phoenix Zoo is a good example. The local, native-species conservation focus, the work they do with Arizona Game and Fish, their connections with communities around the world for providing grants — to me, this is really interesting. This is different than just having animal exhibits so people can come to see what is there. It’s creating an important kind of engagement and leveraging place in productive ways.

Q: When working on the book, did you find any poignant stories?

A: Many. To give just a couple of examples, there is a chapter authored by one of my former graduate students who traces the journey from despair to hope in a large zoo in South Korea that has worked hard to turn itself around. This particular zoo went from being what locals considered a “sad” zoo to a “happy” one, with improved animal-welfare standards and a growing commitment to conservation. It’s still a work in progress, but the overall trajectory is encouraging.

At the Phoenix Zoo, the Arabian oryx and black-footed ferret are two stories that moved from despair to hope — when those species were on the brink of extinction and now are closer to a recovery.

It’s a convenient metaphor in this case, but the elephant in the room is obviously the extinction crisis. There are nagging concerns about a lack of resources to meet this challenge and about priorities within zoo management. Zoo conservation leaders, including several who contributed to “The Ark and Beyond,” argue that an investment of only 1 to 2 percent of their budgets will not get the job done. But there is a sense of great potential for zoos to take this opportunity and do more than what they are doing for conservation, while fully realizing they can’t do it alone.

Q: What is happening with stories about poaching and the illegal animal trade — is there a specific role that zoos can fill to help fight these activities?

A: Absolutely. We have a chapter in the book examining the role of zoos in gorilla conservation, which hinges on collaborative efforts to combat poaching and a global campaign to raise the public profile of the issue. Another chapter promotes a more expansive and ambitious form of zoo conservation planning that sees zoos as part of a larger continuum — they are not isolated organizations but part of a wider biodiversity network linking communities, field conservation organizations and governments in the cause of biodiversity protection. There is a real effort to pull zoos into this mix in a more deliberate and systematic way.

You can find the book on Sun Devil Shelf Life or Amazon or the Ark and Beyond website.

Top photo: Sudan, the last-known male northern white rhinoceros, is dead. He lived out his life at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya. Photo courtesy Ol Pejeta Conservancy

Sandra Leander

Manager, Media Relations and Marketing , School of Life Sciences

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ASU psychologists agree — unexpected separation from parents is harmful to children both in the short and long term


June 21, 2018

The Arizona State University Department of Psychology has a history of research supporting children and adolescents experiencing crisis, anxiety or trauma. Scientists in the department have produced several internationally renowned intervention programs to help improve their long-term outcomes.

Experts all agree — separating children from their families is harmful to the child’s development and long-term physical, mental and emotional health. Child Separation Photo: Mitch Lensink on unsplash.com Download Full Image

“The evidence underscores the importance of prioritizing keeping children secure with their families,” said Marc Bornstein, president of the Society for Research in Child Development. 

In light of the recent separation of immigrant children from their parents at the U.S. border, ASU Now asked experts in the department to share their thoughts.

Leah Doane, associate professor of psychology, is an expert on stress processes and consequences in children and adolescents. She leads the Adolescent Stress and Emotion Lab and is a principal investigator of the Arizona Twin Project. Her “Transiciones” project studies ways that Latinos adapt to stress in higher education.

Armando Pina, associate professor of psychology, is an expert on anxiety and courage in children. He leads ASU’s Courage Lab and helped launch the award-winning Compass for Courage project that is currently being used in 26 local schools. Pina also studies separation anxiety in children.

Sharlene Wolchik, professor of psychology, and Irwin Sandler, ASU Regents’ Professor of psychology, are the co-founders of the New Beginnings program, an intervention program designed to help children cope during divorce.  The program has expanded beyond ASU and Maricopa County to other family courts in other states.

Question: What immediate or long-term effects might be expected in children who have been unexpectedly separated from their parents?

Doane: Family separations lead to serious physical and psychological consequences. Such separations represent sources of stress and trauma for children and parents alike. Research evidence is clear regarding the impact of child maltreatment and trauma on immediate and long-term outcomes for children. In the short term, children’s basic psychological needs stemming from warm responsive caregiving and reassurance under stress are not met, leading to chronic activation of physiological stress processes and emotional distress.

These experiences in children have been linked to the development of serious emotional disorders, worse cognitive performance, and changes in physiology in childhood, adolescence and into adulthood. Such disorders can include post-traumatic stress, depression and changes in physiological stress systems and brain function. 

Pina: Separation that is unexpected is stressful and traumatic. We know that the immediate or long-term effects on children who are separated from their parents can vary because of a number of factors: the age of the child, the nature and length of the separation, the child’s reaction to the separation, and the child’s coping ability. For example, among very young children, unplanned separation can increase behavioral problems at ages 5 to 6 years old.

Developmentally and clinically speaking, there are different types of stressful events and separation, such as the death of a parent, divorce, foster home mobility, or abandonment, that we can draw on to better understand and predict the long-term outcomes for children. One could expect anxiety, depression, poor academic performance, low school liking, peer rejection, mistrust, illegal substance use, criminality, reliance on public assistance, residential instability, and even an increased risk of suicide in some cases. In fact, the association of an increased risk of suicide remains even after adjusting for school and childhood mental health problems.

Wolchik and Sandler: Based on other examples when children have been forcibly separated from their parents, we can expect that this situation would be a very traumatic experience. In the short term, children are likely to be anxious, depressed, scared, confused and wary of adults. They may cry inconsolably, bed wet, fight and worry about what is going to happen to them and their parents. The long-term effects depend on how long they are separated and the conditions in which they reside. But these children, many of whom have already experienced other traumatic events, might well develop serious long-term problems such as hypersensitivity to separation, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Q: What can be done immediately or in the future to lessen any negative effects on the children?

Doane: Swift reunification without threat of additional separation will help both children and parents. Strategies must also be implemented to help families cope with this significant stressor both immediately and in the future.

Pina: It is important to screen and identify children who might need social services. Unfortunately, there is no cure for any of the mental health factors that typically result from such an atypical separation. If children are identified as at-risk for illness or diagnosed with the psychiatric problems that can result from traumatic separation, then our best option would be to provide interventions known to help children learn coping strategies aimed at reducing the severity and impact of the symptoms associated with trauma. Sadly, the scars of trauma and traumatic separation tend to be lifelong and costly to all.

Wolchik and Sandler: The most important thing is to reunite the children with their parents as quickly as possible and to allow their parents to take care of them. There is really no substitute for reunification.

Robert Ewing

Marketing and Communications Manager, Department of Psychology

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Family separation at the border: What is religion’s place in civil law?

June 21, 2018

ASU religious ethicists and historians weigh in on whether government officials' invoking of scripture is acceptable

President Donald Trump on Wednesday announced plans to end the policy of separating immigrant children from parents who cross illegally into the United States. But the fact that policy was ever enforced and backed — in some cases using religion as justification — is unsettling to at least a couple of religious ethicists and historians.

ASU Now spoke to John Carlson, interim director of the Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict, and Catherine O’Donnell, associate professor of history in the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies at Arizona State University, to get their take on religion’s place in civil law and whether certain government officials’ invoking of scripture and religious moral groundings is acceptable.

Carlson, also an associate professor of religious studies, writes frequently on the topic of American civil religion and its erosion during the Trump presidency. He explains civil religion as “an abiding confidence in democracy and democratic principles such as human freedom, equality and governmental representation.”

“The rule of law and institutions of our government exist to preserve and enforce these principles,” which often are reinforced by religious ideas, Carlson said.

“They have been championed by American leaders (including presidents, who often serve as the ‘high priests’ of civil religion). And they can be found in the wellsprings of many religious traditions that Americans have tapped to understand, reinforce or even challenge their government’s laws and failures to live up to its ideals.”

Carlson points to a long list of diverse Americans who have contributed to the heritage of American civil religion, including Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Walt Whitman, Jane Addams and Martin Luther King, and notes that religious ideas have helped ignite government transformation at pivotal moments throughout the United States’ history, including the Revolution, the Civil War and the civil rights movement.

But he expressed concern regarding the state of civil religion today.

“Besides Donald Trump, nearly every president, whether Republican or Democrat, has spoken the moral language of American civil religion,” Carlson said. “You might say that it is part of the ‘establishment’ that this president is overturning.”

Question: Recently, Attorney General Jeff Sessions cited a Bible passage from Romans 13 in his justification of separating children from their parents at the border, saying the passage instructs us to “obey the laws of the government because God has ordained them for the purpose of order.” Given the U.S. stance on separation of church and state, is it lawful to use religious scripture as justification for policies?

O’Donnell: There is nothing unlawful about the attorney general’s reference to that passage from Romans 13 in order to support his policy, but I found it unsettling. In part because the specific juxtaposition of a governmental action and a Bible verse goes well beyond politicians’ more customary comments that their faith infuses their ethical and moral judgment. But also because that verse, as the scholar John Fea has pointed out, has a history in American politics: It was cited by Loyalists who argued that rebellion against Great Britain was a kind of rebellion against God’s law, and by slaveholders who used it to decry abolitionists and defend slavery. So for me, Sessions’ citing of that verse was the strongest argument against the policy he was describing that I could imagine.

Carlson: There is nothing illegal or even inappropriate about a political official invoking scripture to guide the nation, its citizens or its laws. Countless presidents have done so to constructive effect. Jimmy Carter’s presidential inaugural invoked the prophet Micah’s call “to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God.” That would be an apt passage for Sessions to quote announcing the end of this immoral policy, given the president’s new executive order.

Q: Is Sessions’ take on Romans 13 a fair and accurate interpretation of the passage?

Carlson: Sessions’ mistake was not that he quoted scripture, but that he proof-texted a passage — he took it out of context of the wider scriptural themes found throughout the Bible, which enjoin compassion, kindness to strangers and care for the vulnerable. In fact, just a few lines later in Romans, Paul says that the greatest commandment is to love one’s neighbor and that “love is the fulfilling of the law.”

O’Donnell: A number of theologians have made two other points: First, that the Apostle Paul himself (the source of Romans 13) ran afoul of the law; and second, that Romans 13 assumes that government is a force for good — if it is not, obedience is not required. I think it’s interesting that those who turn to American history and those who turn to Christian scripture can find a great deal that seems to support occasional law-breaking in pursuit of a deeper justice.

Q: What are some reasons religious leaders have given for opposing the family separation policy?

Carlson: Many leaders and groups of different Jewish, Muslim and Christian traditions have come out against the policy — even groups who have been supportive of the Trump administration. Some do so on scriptural grounds, like those I mentioned above, or out of other moral and theological commitments to protecting human dignity, which this policy violates. There are also a lot of religious leaders who, like other citizens, deeply resent Sessions cherry-picking a passage from the Bible to justify highly questionable policies of the state. Sessions’ speech demonstrates religious illiteracy as well as poor appreciation of America’s own history.

O’Donnell: There’s been an extraordinary array of voices calling for an end to family separation at the border: Jewish groups, Muslim groups, Quakers, the United Methodist Church, the Southern Baptist Convention, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and on it goes. Most of the statements in one way or another contrast the policy with obligations to care for the vulnerable and welcome the stranger.

Q: The U.S. Constitution states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,” yet one might argue that lawmakers can’t help but be influenced by their religious beliefs (or lack thereof) when making decisions about policies. How far can that go before it becomes problematic? Is there a gray area?

O’Donnell: The separation of church and state has never meant the separation of religion and politics. That is true because faith and faith traditions influence people’s understanding of right and wrong, and politics does, too. Faiths offer guidance about how to treat loved ones and strangers, how to forgive and punish and how to measure one’s own needs against others. In the modern world, those are also questions negotiated through politics. So I think that we will always have discussions and arguments — and Supreme Court cases — that involve Americans trying to figure out how we can reconcile our respect for the claims of specific faiths with our deep desire to live in harmony.

Q: What is the difference between “civil law” and “natural law”? And how do they determine how religious leaders approach the question of the relationship between religion and the law?

Carlson: When Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. advocated civil disobedience in the cause of civil rights, he drew heavily from scripture and relied on religious thinkers going back to the fifth century. His letter from Birmingham City Jail cited St. Augustine, who said that “an unjust law is no law at all,” as well as St. Thomas Aquinas, who said that a just law is one that squares with the natural law. What all of these figures were saying is that there is always a higher law with which human-made laws must conform and by which they will be judged. Civil laws that discriminate against people or that deny human beings the dignity due to them are out of sync with the natural law.

What is interesting about the natural law is that it presumes all people, regardless of their religious beliefs, have reason and the ability to discern basic moral laws of the universe: to avoid evil, to preserve human life, to do no harm, and to promote the rearing of children. The administration’s family separation policy violates every one of these natural law principles, thereby making it an “unjust law.”

Top photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

 
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Decision to quit UN’s Human Rights Council not unprecedented but not prudent, ASU faculty says

June 20, 2018

Associate professor gives context to withdrawal from 47-member board

In a move that has stunned and disappointed many in the diplomatic world, the Trump administration announced Tuesday its withdrawal from the United Nations Human Rights Council, lambasting the 47-member body as a “cesspool of political bias” that has made a mockery of human rights by holding a “chronic bias against Israel.”

The swift move drew particular criticism from U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein, who tweeted Tuesday that he was disappointed and that the U.S. should be “stepping up, not stepping back.”

It’s not the first time the U.S. has stepped back. President George W. Bush's administration also boycotted the council in 2006 for similar reasons to those cited by Trump. So why is a council created for the purpose of investigating human rights violations evoking such strong emotions and political debate?

ASU Now turned to LaDawn Haglund for answers. HaglundHaglund is also a faculty fellow at the Center for Law and Global Affairs, Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law and senior sustainability scholar with the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability., an associate professor of justice and social inquiry at Arizona State University, teaches several classes on human rights organizations, sustainability and economic justice. 

Woman in biege scarf smiling
LaDawn Haglund

Question: Is the U.S. withdrawal from the Human Rights Council a shock, or has this been brewing for some time?

Answer: The United States, particularly under Republican administrations, has always been somewhat hostile to the Human Rights Council (HRC). John Bolton — George W. Bush’s ambassador to the United Nations at the time of the HRC’s formation in 2006 and now national security adviser — opposed its formation over allegations that countries that abuse human rights could not readily be prevented from sitting on the council. So it is not very surprising that there is hostility toward the HRC in the Trump administration.

But in reality, the U.S. generally has not been very supportive of the international human rights regime. Despite its key role in the development of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights under Eleanor Roosevelt, the U.S. has signed and ratified only a handful of multilateral instruments designed to protect rights via international law. Notably excluded are the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights; the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women; and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Once a country ratifies such instruments, they are bound to uphold its precepts, and the U.S. simply has not been willing to admit that our laws may not measure up to international law in terms of protecting human rights.

What is surprising about the administration’s decision to leave the HRC is the questionable diplomatic payoff. Complete withdrawal means no seat at the table, effectively negating any sway the U.S. might have over current council activity. It is not as if the HRC will cease to function — the U.S. term as an active member would have expired next year anyway, and they would have transitioned to observer status. But the administration has given up any power to influence current decisions of this crucial human rights body.

Q: What do you think was behind the decision to withdraw? 

A: The stated reason is that HRC members are hypocritically critical of Israel while allowing abusive regimes to avoid condemnation for human rights abuses. Though there may be some truth to both claims, it is difficult to ignore the hypocrisy of U.S. withdrawal on these grounds, considering the long-term, widespread violation of Palestinian human rights by Israel, as well as current violations of the rights of migrants, children, suspected terrorists and others by the U.S. itself.

It seems more likely that the Trump administration’s narrow and isolationist view of foreign policy, along with a desire to control the discourse around human rights and the HRC agenda, created a critical mass of frustration among key administration figures to lead them to this decision. Having to play nicely within the global community of nations isn’t the most politically expedient way for the administration to achieve its goals, and so it is going to pick up its marbles and go home. This seems to be in line with other controversial decisions, including withdrawing from the Paris climate accords and the Iran nuclear deal.

Q: What are the immediate repercussions — if any — the U.S. could face for this move?

A: Like the decisions mentioned above — leaving the Paris accords and scuttling the Iran nuclear deal — the most immediate consequence of U.S. withdrawal from the HRC may be a loss of legitimacy in the eyes of our allies. In addition, the U.S. stands to lose yet another venue in which to influence decisions made by the broader community of nations.

Q: Is this more of a symbolic move, or will this actually affect day-to-day decisions on the council?

A: Given that members rotate on and off the HRC with regularity, this decision will not likely have much effect on its day-to-day functioning. The HRC will continue its important work drafting and adopting new standards for human rights, investigating alleged violations, and reviewing the record of U.N. member states for their compliance with human rights treaties through the Universal Periodic Review process.

But it does have potentially major long-term ramifications. For one, it now becomes easier for other countries to reject multilateralism. Already, questions are circulating as to whether other countries should consider leaving the body. The risk lies in the fact that it is much harder to build institutions than it is to dismantle them. The international human rights regime was built, and continues to be constructed and reconstructed, through a painstaking political and socio-legal process of negotiation, consultation and evaluation. When a powerful country like the U.S. undermines this process and the resulting institutions, it shakes the foundation of the human rights regime as a whole.

For another, the presence of the U.S. on the HRC has had a concrete influence on its actions; leaving will likely reverse those effects. In claiming to leave for the sake of Israel, the administration is ignoring the evidence that U.S. presence has actually led to a decline in resolutions critical of Israel. The U.S. has also balanced the influence of other powerful countries like Russia and China in investigations of human rights abuses. The long-term impact on certain human rights issues is thus likely to be notable.

Q: Some say there’s a direct correlation between this withdrawal and a U.N. official calling the Trump administration’s decision to separate children from their families at the border “unconscionable.” Is there a link?

A: The decision to leave the HRC has been on the table for a long time, so it cannot be said to be a direct consequence of statements made by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights critical of these border violations. But it is the case that many key members of the Trump administration have a dim view of international criticism of U.S. policy. As John Bolton himself has said, “We don't need advice by the U.N. or other international bodies on how to govern ourselves.” So it is certainly possible that the condemnation from the highest levels of the international human rights regime was the last straw for those who believe they have nothing to learn from that regime.

Top photo illustration courtesy of Max Pixel

Reporter , ASU Now

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Ban on trans fat takes effect in US, but global eradication could be tough

Trans fat banned in U.S. but extending that globally a question, ASU expert says
June 15, 2018

ASU agribusiness expert says processors in emerging countries might find it hard to swallow WHO proposal

Beginning Monday, all food in the United States must be made without trans fat, the culmination of a multiyear campaign to eradicate the harmful ingredient.

Trans fat, also known as partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, is an industrially produced additive that most people know as margarine, shortening or other solid fat. Decades ago, it was commonly used in processed foods, especially cookies and baked goods, to extend shelf life and produce a pleasing texture.

In the 1990s, researchers began to link trans fat to health problems, including deadly high cholesterol. As the evidence began to accumulate, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration required the food industry to declare the amount of trans fat on food labels in 2006, and nine years later, the agency banned manufacturers from adding trans fat to any products by June 18, 2018. Most food processors eliminated the ingredient years ago. In 2008, McDonald’s stopped cooking its french fries in oil with trans fats.

Many other countries also have banned trans fats, including Canada, England and Denmark. But they are still widely used in developing countries, where they contribute to high rates of cardiovascular disease.

Because of that, the World Health Organization (WHO) recently launched a campaign calling for trans fats to be eliminated from the global food supply by 2023, potentially saving 10 million lives.

But from the business side, that might not be as easy as it was in the U.S., according to Lauren Chenarides, an assistant professor at Arizona State University. She researches food policy and supply networks in the Morrison School of Agribusiness in the W. P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University.

Chenarides answered some questions from ASU Now about the new WHO guidelines:

Lauren Chenarides

Question: Trans fats are found in a lot of processed food. What role does processed food play in emerging countries?

Answer: Emerging countries are not like the U.S. or the U.K., where we have a lot of wealth in our borders. A larger portion of their budgets is allocated to food. Some recent research showed that in some emerging countries, they spend 30, 40 or 50 percent of their overall gross domestic product on food, and it’s largely going to carbohydrate-dense food like bread and pasta, and also to processed food.

A lot of these countries rely on processed food because they’re dealing with inefficiencies in distribution and in the supply chain. How do you feed a growing population and have food that’s preferred in their culture? It has to be stored for a long period of time.

Q: So how can they eliminate trans fats?

A: The food-processing companies will have to reformulate their products, and they’ll have to come up with another fat that will not change the flavor and will withstand the transportation process. The best fats for that are actually animal fats. At room temperature, they’re solid because they’re saturated. Unsaturated fats are predominantly vegetable oil or canola oil but to make them solid at room temperature, you have to hydrogenate them. That turns them into trans fats.

Q: Will the guidelines persuade food manufacturers to change their processes?

A: The big global companies can use their economies of scale no matter where they are shipping. They’re more vertically integrated, they have relationships with growers and producers, sourcing networks and distribution networks that are more robust.

But where I think the emerging countries will have more of a question mark is the local producers. They’re the ones that can’t benefit from economy of scale like the global manufacturers. They’ll have to differentiate themselves in some way and not increase costs too much.

The local companies will wait to see what the response is. If the push is to stop using trans fats because the science shows it’s catastrophic for human health, they’ll have to meet those demands.

Q: The WHO guidelines call for public education about the health effects of trans fats to encourage producers to stop using them. Is that an effective method?

A: Education programs are costly and in some cases they won’t lead to behavior change.

We can put a grocery store in a food desert and think, "That will be great, everyone will go there and we’ve solved the problem." But we’re not changing behavior.

Programs directed to youth are shown to be the most effective because they’re still shaping their behavior. You’re getting them at a time when they’re still learning.

It has to be a multifaceted approach — an education program coupled with a good marketing platform, where you’re introducing good signage, bright colors, promotions.

That might not be replicable across every single region and every single country. Cultural differences can dictate the success of some programs, even among regions within a country.

The sticky part is what happens in the next three to five years after the program rolls out. How do you get people who are accustomed to a certain way of doing things to understand that there’s a health benefit when you remove this from your diet?

Q: Do you think the WHO campaign will work?

A: Food manufacturers will be highly encouraged to change, and maybe they’ll do it, but they will make sure they’re cutting their costs as much as possible to make a profit and be competitive.

It’s complicated but the food industry is so consumer-driven and if the consumers hear that they should be avoiding trans fats, it might be enough to pay attention to the guidelines that WHO is putting out.

Top photo by Pixabay

Mary Beth Faller

reporter , ASU Now

480-727-4503

 
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Mexico collaboration takes aim at obesity

June 15, 2018

Emerita professor's work with University of Guanajuato highlights overlooked contributor to weight gain — poor sleep quality

An Arizona State University emerita professor is working with Mexican academics to help fight obesity by exposing a rarely talked about, sneaky and harmful contributor to weight gain: bad sleep.

Carol Baldwin, a distinguished veteran nurse with the College of Nursing and Health Innovation, travels to the University of Guanajuato in central Mexico twice a year to educate health professionals about the impact of sleep disorders, as part of an ongoing partnership.

“Diabetes is the leading cause of morbidity and mortality in Mexico,” said Baldwin, who returned from her latest class in April. “The focus is generally on nutrition and physical activity. We’ve added sleep because there is a lot of research indicating association between sleep, sleep disorders, obesity and diabetes.”

Diabetes is preventable — sleep matters

The World Diabetes Foundation (WDF), an independent nonprofit dedicated to preventing and treating diabetes in developing nations, estimates that about “75 to 80 percent of people with Type 2 diabetes are obese or overweight.” Approximately 95 percent of diabetes cases are Type 2, and according to the WDF they are “largely preventable.”

“Move more, eat less” is the usual advice given to help people control or lose weight. But the not-so-talked-about contributor to weight gain is bad sleep, Baldwin said.    

In her class, Baldwin reveals sleep apnea and insomnia as the culprits preventing good sleep. But she also leads discussions about other sleep-disrupting lifestyle factors, such as late-night cellphone use. Although each of these aspects is unique, their impact is the same. They prevent people from reaching the deeper, restorative sleep that is needed daily.

Behind the link between lack of sleep and adverse health impacts is a 10-year landmark study conducted through the National Institutes of Health titled “Cardiovascular Consequences of Obstructive Sleep Apnoea.” The study looked closely at obstructive sleep apnea, a condition marked by short periods of blocked breathing that disrupts sleep by causing sufferers to wake up throughout the night. Conducted from 1995–2005, the study unintendedly linked bad sleep, in general, to disease.

“It went so far beyond sleep apnea because when they started analyzing the data, they found that, for example, people who purposely restrict their sleep or who work nights and don’t get enough sleep, are significantly more likely to develop diabetes, insulin resistance and hypertension that leads to cardiovascular disease,” Baldwin said. “Reggie White, the former Green Bay Packers football player, died of complications of sleep apnea.”

Sleep apnea is usually associated with lifestyle but has heritable components. Not everyone has to be overweight to have it, cautions Baldwin.

“We don’t know why, but there are slender people who have sleep apnea,” Baldwin said. “But by and large the people we see are middle-aged men with short, thick necks, and they’re at least overweight, usually extremely obese.”

baldwin
Carol Baldwin (left) and Lorely Ambriz review a health manual they helped publish for health workers along the U.S.-Mexico border. Photo by Jerry Gonzalez/ASU

Sleep apnea prevents oxygen from traveling through the bloodstream to the brain, leading to the release of harmful chemicals called pro-inflammatory cytokines that affect the heart, lungs and brain.

“So these guys complain about being tired during the day, reduced sex drive, drowsy driving,” Baldwin said. “They don’t die necessarily of sleep apnea, they die of complications, like Reggie White.”

Insomnia is another anti-sleep culprit. It can go undiagnosed for many years, partly because medical professionals don’t think to ask patients, “Do you have trouble sleeping at night?” People with insomnia are unable to fall asleep within 30 minutes at night, have difficulty staying asleep or wake up very early.

“Sadly, it takes about 11 years before a person is diagnosed with insomnia,” Baldwin said. “Singer Michael Jackson was a classic case of insomnia.”

Regardless of cause, people who get six hours or less sleep per night, or who say “I only need five hours of sleep,” are at higher risk for chronic disease, Baldwin said. In part because tiredness leads to poor eating habits.

“They don’t eat salads, they don’t drink herbal tea,” Baldwin said. “People who do not get enough sleep eat more junk food and drink more sugar-sweetened, caffeinated beverages that contribute to being overweight and obese, which leads to cardiovascular disease, diabetes and other chronic diseases.”

Taking the message to Mexico

Baldwin has been taking her message to Mexican health professionals since a memorandum of understanding was signed between ASU and the University of Guanajuato in 2009. Currently she teaches sleep disorders and complementary, alternative and holistic practices, as part of Guanajuato’s semester-long program.

“They get anywhere from 20 to 40 students, who are physicians, nurses, nutritionists, exercise and wellness specialists,” Baldwin said. “There have been a couple of psychologists, a couple of social workers and for the first time an anthropologist this last time. They get really outstanding training.”

The goal is to take the relationship between the two universities beyond training, and in a direction that can impact the greatest number of people. The University of Guanajuato is unique in that it has the only certified diabetes educator program in the country.

“I’ve been trying to encourage my colleagues to develop at least a position statement and then a policy,” Baldwin said. “Get that policy published in the state of Guanajuato to make it a requirement for all health providers to become certified diabetes educators, and then have it spread throughout Mexico.”

There is a strategy behind this approach. A 2017 study conducted by a University of Guanajuato graduate student found that patients of health providers who were trained diabetes educators had more positive health outcomes.

“The patients who were treated by these providers scored higher on quality of life, knowledge of nutrition, physical activity and sleep,” Baldwin said. “They were better at managing their own health, compared to patients of the providers who did not get that training.” 

Baldwin’s office is also using data gathered from the sleep training to help formulate other aspects of policy that can positively impact the diabetes fight in Mexico and beyond. It begins with training more faculty, health workers and health professionals.

“It’s about strengthening the skills and capacities to use research for policy-making and developing and evaluating programs,” said Lorely Ambriz, adjunct faculty with the College of Nursing and Health Innovation. “You can use the research for different things, not only for policy-making but to develop an intervention, and to evaluate that intervention.”

As the two people largely responsible for establishing at ASU in 2016 a Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization Collaborating Centre to Advance the Policy on Research for Health, Baldwin and Ambriz have been deeply engaged in various other health initiatives in Mexico and Latin America. But regardless of the work, the end goal is policy.

“We want to make life better,” said Baldwin, who also serves as the PAHO/WHO deputy director. “And we do it through creating policies.”

Top photo: The historic University of Guanajuato in central Mexico.

Jerry Gonzalez

Media Relations Officer , Media Relations and Strategic Communications

 
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Macedonian naming-rights dispute finds resolution after 25 years

June 14, 2018

Melikian Center director says the diplomatic process itself is a victory, but the agreement still faces some hurdles

Government leaders in Greece and the Republic of Macedonia have agreed on a resolution to their long-standing dispute over naming rights, striking a deal that will allow both countries use of the name “Macedonia.”

The new resolution rechristens the Republic of Macedonia as the Republic of North Macedonia, opening the way to entry into the European Union and NATO, which has been blocked until now by Greece, who previously laid exclusive claim to the name. Greece retains the name Macedonia, and the rich history associated with it, for its northern geographical region.

To gain further insight on this once-heated issue, ASU Now turned to Keith Brown, director of Arizona State University’s Melikian Center, who has been following this dispute for years.

Man in glasses and tie smiling
Keith Brown

Question: After 25 years, what brought leaders to reach a resolution?

Answer: For the first time since the Republic of Macedonia declared independence in 1992, both countries have governments that were elected for their opposition to rising, right-wing nationalism. Zoran Zaev and Alex Tsipras are both pragmatic politicians who are willing to defy accusations of national treachery. They want to fix relations between their two countries and commit to a shared European future, and are committed to getting it done.

Q: Did both sides get what they wanted in the new name? 

A: In so far as some factions on both sides wanted to monopolize the name, there is plenty of disappointment to go round. “North Macedonia” was an odd place to end, in that it explicitly suggests Macedonia has been subdivided. In other cases where there’s a geographic qualifierCountries such as North Korea, Northern Cyprus, Southern Sudan., it’s been the result of a war. In that regard, this is a win for everyone.

Q: Can the United States and the European Union claim some credit for this?

A: Matthew Nimetz, the U.S. negotiator, has been working on this process for almost a quarter century, for an annual salary of $1. It’s a victory for the idea that quiet persistence can work.

Q: Is this a done deal?

A: Both countries are democracies, with multiple checks and balances in place. The next hurdle in the Republic of Macedonia is posed by President (Gjorge) Ivanov, who owes his office to the now-disgraced nationalist VMRO-DPMNE party that escalated tensions with Greece for political profit. President Ivanov is threatening to use presidential veto power to torpedo the deal, arguing that it is unconstitutional. As a civil-society activist and scholar of political science before his election, he knew the dangers of populism, and he was part of the peaceful transition of Macedonia then. If he can channel his younger self and publicly endorse the deal, there’s a good chance the Republic can turn the page on a chapter of stubborn self-harm.

Q: What comes next, for the countries and the region?

A: If all goes as planned, the deal defuses Greek objections to its neighbor following its fellow former Yugoslav Republics into full membership in NATO and the European Union. Macedonian troops served in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the country became a candidate for EU accession back in 2005, the year before nationalists took power in Skopje. Polls have consistently indicated strong citizen support for the collective security and individual freedoms that EU membership promises. Textbooks and museums in both countries will need some updating, but hopefully those who cling to the imagined glories of the past can take joy in the gift they have the chance to hand to the next generation.

ASU students win national award for Spanish Honor Society Sigma Delta Pi


June 13, 2018

Bridging language instruction and community is a proven winner for Rosti Vana and Rosita Scerbo, PhD students at the School of International Letters and Cultures at Arizona State University who are also leaders in the Spanish Honor Society Sigma Delta Pi.

Vana, who studies Spanish linguistics, is president of the organization, and Scerbo, who studies Spanish literature and culture, is vice president. Together, they led their members to win Sigma Delta Pi's 6th annual Best Practices Award after merging together the Spanish Club and the Honor Society to create a space for students to practice and promote the Spanish language and culture. The recognition is incredibly prestigious and competitive — only four out of 594 chapters (368 of these are considered active) in the U.S. actually win it. Rosti Vana, (pictured sitting down), and Rosita Scerbo, (pictured on left in black), president and vice president, with members of the Spanish Honor Society Sigma Delta Pi. Download Full Image

“This is the first time that our chapter has been recognized for something big,” Vana said.

What started with Cynthia Tompkins, a Spanish professor and faculty adviser to the society, urging Vana to apply turned into a whirlwind when he was asked to visit Spain this summer to represent the School of International Letters and Cultures as well as the Sigma Delta Pi chapter.

“I think that’s the best part about going. I’m able to interact and network ASU,” he said.  

The society is open to both undergraduates and graduates, and prides itself in creating a club for everybody. Schedules are sent out to teacher’s assistants who let students know they can come practice their language skills. Vana and Scerbo said it’s usually students helping students. There are about 10 to 15 members in the club, all of whom are majors in Spanish — the only requirement to join. 

“I really like working with students because they become more comfortable since it is a friendly environment. ... They won’t feel judged or evaluated; they’ll be able to practice Spanish in an natural way,” Scerbo said.

Vana and Scerbo will be returning to ASU in fall 2018, continuing to provide Spanish scholars a space to practice their language skills and the opportunity to join Sigma Delta Pi.

Kathleen Leslie

Student communications specialist, School of International Letters and Cultures

480-965-4674

Why the next big archaeological discovery may not come out of the ground

ASU professor champions a new kind of research that uses virtual teamwork to solve modern human problems


June 7, 2018

Keith Kintigh has seen the future of archaeology — and it’s not what you might expect. His vision includes projects that examine multiple sites together, rather than separately, and a science that answers questions about our present, instead of focusing only on the past.

Kintigh, a professor in the School of Human Evolution and Social Change and the co-director of its Center for Archaeology and Society, studies ancient political organization in the Zuni Pueblo region of New Mexico. image of globe with network around it Download Full Image

But in recent years, he’s devoted his attention to collecting archaeological data from numerous sites and regions, exploring overarching trends, and making information accessible to other scientists so they can do the same.

This process is known as archaeological synthesis. It first gained Kintigh’s interest nearly 30 years ago, when he and other faculty from the school decided to compare the trajectories of the prehistoric societies each of them studied independently in order to explore the conditions that led to their resilience or collapse.

“Archaeology is not about the artifacts we collect — it’s about what we learn from them.” 
— Professor Keith Kintigh

In collecting and combining their information sources, Kintigh and his peers realized this type of research’s potential to answer important questions about society today.

“It became clear that resolving these questions depended not on new fieldwork and discoveries, but on synthesizing the data already collected over the last 100 years,” Kintigh said. “Archaeology is not about the artifacts we collect — it’s about what we learn from them.”

That revelation led to his involvement in creating the Digital Archaeological Record. This virtual storehouse, where researchers can share their archaeological data and combine it with that of others, recently celebrated its 10th anniversary. But Kintigh’s newest project takes the concept one step further.

In April, he helped launch the Coalition for Archaeological Synthesis at the annual meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, which was held in the ASU Barrett & O’Connor Washington Center.

This international group aims to encourage and support — financially and logistically — synthetic research that tackles broad questions to find solutions for today’s problems. Kintigh currently serves as its co-president alongside archaeologist Jeffrey Altschul, the coalition’s co-creator.

The ambitious effort already has buy-in from 30 partner organizations and 87 associates, including the school’s Center for Archaeology and Society and Center for Digital Antiquity, as well as 15 ASU faculty.

photo of Kintigh speaking at coalition launch
Keith Kintigh speaks at the Coalition for Archaeological Synthesis launch. Photo courtesy of Keith Kintigh

“Without the transdisciplinary environment and highly collegial atmosphere that characterizes both ASU and the School of Human Evolution and Social Change, this never would have happened,” Kintigh said.

And it’s not only archaeologists who will soon be clamoring for this research, but all types of scientists, as well as the curious public.

For example, there are many people who would be interested to know how environmental stresses impacted five Southwestern and northern Mexican societies over the course of 500 years — a synthetic research project that Kintigh tackled as part of a team of ASU faculty before the coalition’s creation.

“Accounting for the differences in resilience of these societies is certainly relevant in addressing the climate-change-related problems of the near-two billion people today who practice subsistence farming, especially in semi-arid areas,” he said.

Moving forward, the coalition’s first two funded projects have already begun studying how past humans’ interactions with plants and animals affected their societies’ long-term survival and how historical use of controlled fire impacted ecosystem health and diversity.

Scientific work aside, the initiative faces a series of logistical and operational hurdles in the months ahead, including organizing a board of directors, finding a university host and securing funds for future synthetic research projects. But as usual, Kintigh has the big picture in mind.

“My goal is to see this inspire more efforts, through the coalition or otherwise, devoted to synthetic research on social science questions that matter for today,” he said. “Continued innovation in this area will create even more opportunities to provide real public benefits.”

Mikala Kass

communications assistant, School of Human Evolution and Social Change

480-727-6577

It takes a village: Acting locally, thinking globally

International community outreach projects are preparing a Fulton Schools doctoral student for a career making the world more environmentally sustainable


May 30, 2018

Evvan Morton has a clear-cut, big-picture career ambition. The Arizona State University doctoral student wants to help bridge the gap between the worlds of engineering and science and the sphere of public policy on a global level.

As Morton sees it, bringing the goals and mindsets of those often-divergent camps into harmony is the only way definitive progress can be made against widespread looming threats to the planet’s environment. Evvan Morton (far left), a sustainable engineering doctoral student in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, and Shakira Hobbs (far right), an engineering research associate at the University of Virginia, are shown with school teachers in the Belize village of Sittee River. Morton and Hobbs are leaders of a project aimed at helping the remote rural community to adopt renewable energy technology and establish an environmentally safe waste management system. Photo courtesy of Evvan Morton and Shakira Hobbs Download Full Image

For the past several years, she has been taking on college studies, research and outreach projects to gain the knowledge and experience for playing a role in prevailing against such a vast and complex challenge.

During her junior year as a materials engineering student at the University of Cincinnati, Morton joined a small team of students on a trip to Haiti to build a home for earthquake victims.

In her senior year she took a course focused on developing solar power solutions for energy-poor regions of Africa. She and other students in the class traveled to Ethiopia to help install a photovoltaic solar power system for a health clinic.

After earning a bachelor’s degree, Morton did two stints as an intern at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colorado. One of her assignments there was with the Strategic Energy Analysis Center researching the role of the United States in deployment of renewable energy technologies in developing countries. She performed a case study of a project to assist the Philippines in pursuing sustainability objectives.

Morton’s most long-term hands-on project began in 2015, the summer after her first year in the Civil, Environmental and Sustainable Engineering doctoral program in ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.

She became part of a team of engineering teachers, researchers and students at the University of Virginia, the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and Clemson University working to introduce renewable energy technology and environmental protection practices to a remote rural village — Sittee River, population estimated at no more than 350 people — in the Central American country of Belize.

In July, the team is returning to the village for a fourth straight summer for a monthlong stay to continue training members of the community to participate in the project and “empowering them to take ownership of it,” Morton said.

The mission is to establish a sustainable waste management system in the Sittee River, which started with the team building an anaerobic digester for use by the village residents.

two women posing for a photo with children in Belize
Shakira Hobbs and Evvan Morton pictured with children in the Sittee River community as they conduct a house-to-house census in the village. Morton and Hobbs also interviewed residents about their waste disposal practices as part of their efforts to introduce environmental health measures to the village. Photo courtesy of Evvan Morton and Shakira Hobbs

The digester consists of a large container in which food waste and other organic waste can be placed — including manure, which acts to balance the acidity level inside the container — to undergo a series of biological processes through which microorganisms break down biodegradable material in the absence of oxygen.

One of the end products of the process is biogas, which can be combusted to generate electricity and heat, or be processed into renewable natural gas and fuels. The team has designed its digester to provide gas that villagers can use to cook food.

“You can hook up gas from the digester to a stove. And the sludge left over from the anaerobic breakdown of the waste material can be used for fertilizer,” Morton explained.

With the extra fertilizer, villagers can expand their farming and produce more vegetables to sell to support their local economy, she said.

The anaerobic digester is only one phase of the project. The digester enables villagers to refrain from their usual practice of burning waste materials in open fires, which puts harmful particulates in the air and produces the kind of greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to troublesome climate change.

“We want to make this the starting point for a broader waste management system that would include people in the village employed to pick up the waste to transport it to a landfill or some type of recycling center,” Morton said. “There aren’t many recycling resources and the closest landfill is an hour’s drive away and most people don’t have a car, so there are hurdles.”

Despite the low-tech devices involved and the project’s relatively small scale, it presents all the challenges of instituting sustainable energy systems and environmentally beneficial practices in larger regions of developing countries.

Project team members have had to find effective ways to communicate with, earn the trust of, educate and motivate people in a different culture.

They have had to build a working relationship with the village council and will try to help the community seek aid from Belize’s government to support Sittee River’s local sustainability efforts.

They also had to secure funding for the project, which they did through a competitive process for a grant from the Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship: Solar Utilization Network, known as the IGERT-SUN program, a National Science Foundation doctoral student training program.

The Belize project has so far also led to the team establishing BioGals, a nonprofit group working to empower and increase the visibility of women of color who are conducting research to develop sustainable solutions to problems around the world.

Coincidently, Morton has recently been elected president of ASU’s Black Graduate Student Association, whose empowerment goals align with those of the BioGals organization.

woman speaking at event
Evvan Morton won ASU’s 2018 Martin Luther King Jr. Student Servant-Leadership Award. Her academic and service achievements have made her a National Science Foundation IGERT-SUN Fellow, a Walton Global Sustainability Studies Scholar and a recipient of and the Brown and Caldwell Women in Leadership Scholarship. Photographer: Charlie Leight/ASU

Four of the team’s members, including Morton, have produced a research paper, “Sustainability Approach: Food Waste-to-Energy Solutions for Small Rural Developing Communities,” published earlier this year in the International Journal of Environmental, Cultural, Economic, and Social Sustainability. 

The project also relates to the doctoral research Morton is doing under the supervision of Klaus Lackner, a professor in the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment in the Fulton Schools.

Lackner directs the Center for Negative Carbon Emissions and is an international leader in the promising area of carbon-capture technology.

Systems being developed in Lackner’s lab have the potential to contribute substantially to combating the negative impacts of climate change by removing harmful carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Morton’s role in that research encompasses both technical and public policy aspects of paving the way for the use of carbon-capture systems.

“My system will integrate [Lackner’s] technology with sequestration and carbon-capture permitting methods to create a sustainable waste management system for a negative carbon emission future,” she said.

“Evvan is a natural leader who is committed to helping people to do the right thing for the environment,” Lackner said. “In Belize she is doing this on a village scale, but for her thesis she is exploring how this can be achieved on a global scale. How can individuals and corporations be convinced of the critical need to prevent and clean up the carbon waste we produce every day by consuming energy?” 

Along with the sustainable engineering doctoral degree she will earn within the next two years, Morton is studying to earn a graduate-level academic certificate in Responsible Innovation in Science, Engineering and Society from ASU’s School for the Future of Innovation in Society.

With those credentials and the international experience she is getting through community outreach projects, Morton said she hopes to get on a career path to becoming a decision maker in matters that help turn the tide for the country and the world toward an environmentally sustainable future.

Joe Kullman

Science writer, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering

480-965-8122

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