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Waiting for Obamacare; Danger in the Water; Surprising Diet Study

Aired September 1, 2012 - 16:30   ET


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, HOST: Hello there. Hope you're enjoying your Labor Day weekend.

Today, we're going to hear about an exercise danger in the water that's very unique in that very fit people are the ones that are most at risk. It can be deadly in fact.

Also, this long-awaited study on diet and living longer. The results were a big surprise. I'll share them.

But, first, in between political conventions, I want to do a reality check on two big issues. First the big promise of Obamacare under the microscope.

As you know, certainly if you've been watching this program, nearly 50 million Americans don't have health insurance. Now, Obamacare is supposed to eventually change that but many of those it's supposed to help now don't know the details.

For example, people who can't get insurance because they have what's known as a preexisting condition. And that brings me to the story of Leslie Elder. She's a woman with cancer who I met three years ago.


LESLIE ELDER, UNINSURED PATIENT: I always said, I don't get a cold. I get cancer.

GUPTA (voice-over): Cancer seemed to follow Leslie Elder. She was diagnosed with breast cancer for the first time in 1988.

(on camera): Did you worry about paying for the medical care?

ELDER: No. At that time, I had a good coverage.

GUPTA (voice-over): Thirteen years later, she was struck with breast cancer again.

ELDER: As I'm recuperating, I receive $21,000 of bills that I was responsible for.

GUPTA: Since Elder's first bout with cancer, health care costs skyrocketed. Eventually, it got so expensive the Elders took their chances and dropped their coverage altogether.

But in 2005, Elder was back in the emergency room and her doctor told her the unthinkable.

ELDER: He said, you have -- your right kidney is breaking apart. You have a tumor.

GUPTA: Family members kicked in to help pay for treatments but even so, the Elder savings was eventually wiped out. The president's health care law is supposed to prevent this type of situation. Starting in 2014, insurance companies will be required to cover people with preexisting conditions like Leslie Elder at an affordable price.

But in the meantime, Obamacare sets up special programs to bridge the gap, to at least make it easier to find insurance.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This year, tens of thousands of uninsured Americans with preexisting conditions, the parents of children who have a preexisting condition, will finally be able to purchase the coverage they need.

GUPTA: But for Leslie, the pieces just never came together and she remained uninsured, so she put off doctors' visits and this year she was diagnosed with cancer yet again, Hodgkin's lymphoma this time. She died the last day of July.


GUPTA: And joining me now is James Elder, who is Leslie's husband.

Mr. Elder, thanks so much for joining us. I was so sorry to hear the news about your wife Leslie and I appreciate you coming on.

I think what happened to Leslie is an important teaching point about our health care system as a whole. I want to ask you a couple questions.

Until the full health care law comes into effect, the government has an insurance program designed to give coverage to people with preexisting conditions like Leslie. And I wondered, sir, who did you reach out to for help and did anyone tell you about this sort of program?

JAMES ELDER, LESLIE'S HUSBAND: No, they did not. I was under the impression that preexisting didn't start until 2014.

GUPTA: You're highlighting one of the problems which is that a lot of people, even experts in the field, don't know about this. Let me ask you a tough question, which is do you think Leslie would be here now if she had been able to get coverage?

ELDER: Of course, that's very tough to say, but I would say yes. If she was properly taken care of and had the proper tests done, there is a good chance she would be here.

GUPTA: Again, I appreciate you coming on and talking about Leslie. It seems not that long ago I was with her myself. It is a very important lesson. So, Mr. Elder, thanks for being with us.

ELDER: You're welcome.

GUPTA: So far, enrollment in these high risk pool plans is just about one-third of what was predicted. Now, one issue, as you might guess, is cost. Individuals on average are paying about $500 a month to join these plans, plus up to $7,000 a year out of pocket.

Now, we asked someone from the Obama campaign or the White House or Department of Health and Human Services, really anyone to come on and say if this was working as planned and they told us no one was available. They did give us this statement though. "Enrollment has grown nearly 200 percent to nearly 80,000 people, with more Americans joining every month and the preexisting condition insurance plan has literally saved lives."

People need to know about it. If you think you might qualify, you can go online to

I want to turn to the Republicans who of course want to eliminate Obamacare entirely. You've heard that. Part of the Mitt Romney message is that he is the man to save Medicare and that President Obama's health care plan is putting Medicare at risk.

This is vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan.


REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), VICE PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: Seven hundred and sixteen billion dollars funneled out of Medicare by President Obama.


RYAN: An obligation we have to our parents and grandparents is being sacrificed, all to pay for a new entitlement we didn't even ask for.


GUPTA: Tough words. But the question is, is it true? That $716 billion number is a slow down in future spending. The president said explicitly he is not going to cut benefits. Now, Obamacare does save money by paying hospitals less but also those hospitals agreed to the change because they think they're going to make up for it by treating new patients who now have insurance.

Obamacare also reduces subsidies to private insurance companies through Medicare Advantage plans. Now, some of the savings go to pay for new prescription drug benefits for elderly people as well and some goes to reduce the deficit.

It's also worth noting this, Paul Ryan, the same Paul Ryan proposed the same cost reductions in his House budget plan. Mitt Romney said he wouldn't make any changes to his far for Medicare for the next 10 years.

Shifting gears now, a surprising danger for swimmers and anyone who loves the ocean.


GUPTA: Every summer brings stories that can really make you scratch your head. Well, you're about to learn something that I think is very important. Strong, experienced swimmers who somehow drown, even in spots they've been a million times before, even in swimming pools. I've learned that the number one cause of these drownings is something known as shallow water blackout.

Here to help me talk about this is Dr. Rhonda Milner. Rhonda lost her son to this just last year and she started an organization called Shallow Water Blackout Prevention.

Thanks for joining us.

You and I have had a chance to talk about this before and talk about your son Whitner who was a swimmer and he was swimming and he's with friends when this happened. What were you told about what happened to him that night?

DR. RHONDA MILNER, SON DIED AFTER SHALLOW WATER BLACKOU: Well, Whitner was an avid spear fisherman and he was planning a trip with his friends to go to the Bahamas. And they were all practicing in the pool doing conditioning for training for the trip to increase their period that they could breath hold, meaning they could stay down longer to spear fish for fish.

And the best we can piece together, because we were out of town at the time, was that they were practicing this and it became late in the evening and everyone got out of the pool but Whitner it seems that he went down for one last breath hold and there was no one else in the pool with him. So basically what happened is he was breath holding under water and because of the lack of oxygen he passed out under water and then drowned.

GUPTA: It's called shallow water blackout.


GUPTA: And, you know, when you first told me about this I hadn't heard much about it. Had you heard anything about this?

MILNER: No. And our whole family were all certified scuba divers. I'm a physician. I actually called the medical examiner, who did Whitner's autopsy. He had never heard of it.

So really it made me realize that people just didn't know about this deadly entity that, you know, was life threatening to many people who practice breath holding.

GUPTA: People breath hold all the time. I mean, kids do -- but I want to show, specifically, Dr. Milner, what happens when someone actually is breath holding. If you hold your breath repeatedly or if you hyperventilate first as you see here, you don't have as much oxygen and that is a key point. They don't have much carbon monoxide either. People don't realize but your urge to breathe is triggered by having a lot of carbon monoxide in your lungs not by the oxygen level. So, when someone like Whitner for example holds their breath again on the next dive under water, they run low on oxygen but with so little carbon monoxide now in their lungs they don't realize it. They don't come up to breathe and they pass out.

And again, I keep repeating this because it's swimming pools, people like just testing themselves to get from one end of the pool to the other under water holding their breath. That is the exact situation that can be dangerous. A lot of times it's caught on film as well, which is really remarkable.

I'll show you a clip from the Discovery Channel show called "Making the Cut". It's a pretty good if not frightening illustration. Take a look at this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When they do try and push themselves the most common thing is shallow water blackout. They'll come to the surface and then just sink right back under because they'll just black out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's out. He's out. Turn him on his side.


GUPTA: It's amazing to look at some of that still. They were able to get him out, able to turn him on his side, and he did OK. But the most vulnerable people are those you least expect, strong swimmers, good athletes.

And the question becomes, Dr. Milner, what do you do about it? Because, again, this is one of those things where people have been doing this for the ages, you know, challenging themselves to hold their breath.

MILNER: Well, that's what our organization is trying to do is really bring awareness and education to the public. One of our primary goals is for signage, for there to be signage at all public pools to warn of the dangers of prolonged breath holding. And that will bring awareness and hopefully lead to education because people will question, why can't I breath hold?

Because, you know, as little children commonly play breath holding games and they have no sense of danger, how really deadly this could be to them. Recently there have been several 6-year-olds and 7-year- olds this has happened to. And a while ago, a young little boy in Ohio was 7 at a birthday party and was playing a breath holding game and did die. So it's just very dangerous.

So the whole thing is we want parents not to encourage breath holding and for them to understand the dangers for children to grow up knowing how dangerous it is and then the other component here is also the spear fishing, free diving industry outside the pool arena and there we're really working to get warning labeling on the spear fishing equipment. Now there is no warning. Anyone can go in and buy a spear fishing gun and have no idea of the dangers of breath holding. GUPTA: I mean, I know you're going to basically say, look, just don't breath hold. That is something that just shouldn't be done. It can be dangerous in the ways we've just tried to demonstrate.

You've also given tips for example I remember saying you should always have someone with you, you're monitoring each other. Are there other little tips that you tell parents or even kids who you're concerned about?

MILNER: Well, besides really not practicing prolonged breath holding other things that complicate it if it's competitive and repetitive, so that's really dangerous. And of course never hyperventilate.

The other thing is, though, if you are going to swim a lap or something and you want to breath hold, the rule that I understand is one breath, one time, one lap. No more, because the more you do it, the more you become at risk for it.

GUPTA: I know you've been beating the drum on this for a long time. Hopefully people are watching and some lives will be saved.

MILNER: I hope so. We just weren't created to be fish. We need to honor our body that we need to breathe.

GUPTA: That's a very good way of putting it. Thanks for joining us. Really appreciate it.

MILNER: You're welcome. Thank you.

GUPTA: Thanks so much for joining us. I really appreciate it.

MILNER: You're welcome. Thank you.

GUPTA: Thanks for sharing Whitner's story as well.

MILNER: Thank you.

GUTPA: Thanks very much.

I want to move on to something different now. You know, for many years, it was believed that drastically cutting calories could make you live longer. Well, now we know the truth.

Stay with us.


GUPTA: For years, there's been this obsession of people who think we're barely scratching the surface of human longevity. These people say if you eat an extremely low-calorie diet, 30 percent fewer calories than normal every day you can dramatically extend your life. And there is some evidence but it's based on studies in animals.

So to actually live that way really takes a leap of faith. And I've seen it first hand.


GUPTA (voice-over): On this night, I joined the couple for a dinner of tomato salad, asparagus, tilapia and a brownie Sunday, a total of 639 calories, exactly.

(on camera): This actually looks like a lot of food.

(voice-over): Ray and Smith are chasing life by following a calorie restriction or C.R. diet, eating the fewest possible calories while still getting all the required nutrients.

Smith is 5'2", 102 pounds. Ray is six feet tall and weighs only 115 pounds. Smith and Rae are eating less because they want to live longer.

MICHAEL RAE, CR DIETER: If CR gets us more years of a young, healthy life, I'm for that.


GUPTA: Well, interesting question, because this week, a new study came out in monkeys. The scientists have been following them for 25 years. One group was fed normally, and the other got an extremely lo- calorie diet. In the end, there was no difference in life span. The low-cal monkeys were more healthy, but for fans of this extreme diet, it's still pretty disappointing.

So, a low-calorie diet may not be the key to longer life. But make no mistake, healthy food can make you live better. All around the country, there are areas where good fruits and vegetables simply aren't available. I did find one neighborhood in Atlanta where they've come up with a creative solution.


GUTPTA (voice-over): Healthy and affordable food, a 2009 report from the USDA found that all around the country at least 23 million Americans simply can't get it. They live in areas designated by the USDA as food deserts. That's a place where the poverty rate is at least 20 percent and no grocery store nearby.

(on camera): So I'm standing in one of these food deserts. As you might imagine, it's hard for people who live here to find any fresh produce or fruits or vegetables. We did a little investigating and we found behind this church, there's a truck like this one, a fresh mobile farmer's market. They give away produce for free and also do something else here.

(voice-over): Menia Chester manages this program. It's called the Fulton County Mobile Farmer's Market.

MENIA CHESTER, DIRECTOR, FULTON COUNTY COOPERATIVE EXTENSION: I try to explain it like this: if you are a mother having to take the bus to the grocery store and you have two children, how many bags of vegetables can you carry or how many bags can you carry? Because you have to hold the children's hands. GUPTA (on camera): As a result, people -- they just don't buy it?

CHESTER: Well, it's easier to go buy fast food.

GUPTA (voice-over): Just having the truck isn't enough for people who aren't used to eating fresh vegetables. So twice a week all summer long, she gives cooking lessons to area residents before handing out bags of free produce.

CHESTER: All right. Now that that's browned, we're going to add our zucchini and squash. You see, I cut that up.

GUPTA: Patricia Barnum loves the mobile truck.

PATRICIA BARNUM, SHOPPER: You don't have grocery stores around here that much. I think we have one.

GUPTA (on camera): So if you wanted to get fresh --

BARNUM: You have to go other places.

GUPTA: You have to go -- so you can't. It's hard to get fresh produce and vegetables, it sounds like.

BARNUM: Right, in this area.

GUPTA (voice-over): There is little data to show if programs like Fulton Fresh actually reduce high rates of chronic disease that are often found in food deserts. But Chester is convinced the program is part of the solution. She says her truck has already given away more than eight tons of produce just this summer.

CHESTER: We have people that say they probably would never have bought a zucchini before. I've had people tell me they're going to go home and try recipes that we've given them.

GUPTA: Better eating, one bite at a time.


GUPTA: Up next, what your teen might be doing that could permanently lower their I.Q.


GUPTA: You're about to meet Reece Holloway. His story reminded me that a little inspiration and a lot of determination is often enough to defy the odds.


GUPTA (voice-over): He can hit. Field the ball. Even slide into home plate.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Good job. Give me five.

REECE HOLLOWAY, BORN WITH NO LEFT HAND: All the way around the base.

GUPTA: Six-year-old Reece Holloway wants to play in the big league someday, just like his favorite player Chipper Jones of the Atlanta Braves.

When Reece was born, his parents were shocked to discover that he didn't have a left hand. And baseball was the furthest thing from their minds.

He did learn to crawl and walk. And then something remarkable happened. Reese taught himself how to hit a ball when he was just two years old.

MALOU HOLLOWAY, REECE'S MOTHER: He got plastic balls and he would hold them under his chin, and drop it and swing the bat and he would hit the ball. No problem.

GUPTA: He is a natural and he as been playing on a team since he was 3 years old.

As far as the Holloways are concerned, Reece doesn't have a disability.

REECE HOLLOWAY: I was born like that.

GUPTA: They try to never hold him back. So far they say the only thing he can't do is tie his shoes.

MALOU HOLLOWAY: Anything he wanted to do, we let him try it. There was no saying, "No, you can't do that because you only have one hand."

GUPTA: But his parents aren't the only ones rooting for Reece.

When Chipper Jones saw our story about him, he invited the little leaguer and his family to see the Braves play the Marlins in Atlanta.

First came batting practice.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nice to meet you, Reece.

GUPTA: Then autographs.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There you go, bro.

GUPTA: And then a private meeting with his hero.

REECE HOLLOWAY: He signed my book and my banner too.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just squirming the whole time.

GUPTA: Then it was time to play ball.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It meant a lot to him. He'll remember this for the rest of his life.

GUPTA: After this experience, Reece is even more determined to follow in Chipper's foot steps and make it to the big leagues.


GUPTA: "Chasing Life" today may start an argument. But there's new evidence that smoking pot can permanently lower I.Q. This is according to a large, long-term study and it found people who smoke pot at least four times a week when they were teenagers lost an average of eight I.Q. points by the time they were age 38.

Now, it may not sound like a lot but that's enough to impact every day memory, concentration, and brain power. Interestingly, since smoking pot as adults did not seem to have the same permanent effect

Here is a possible explanation. A young brain is still growing and is especially vulnerable to the effects of smoking pot. Before you say, hey, look, that's not my kid, know this -- pot use is up among kids. Twenty-five percent of teens now admit to using it.

Don't be shy. Warn them what their brain might look like later on in life.

That's going to wrap things up for SGMD. You can stay connected with me at Just keep the conversation going as well on Twitter @SanjayGuptaCNN.

Time now, though, to get you a check of your top stories from "THE CNN NEWSROOM".