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The Vast Majority Of Healthy Women Will Become Unhealthy!

Most healthy women, who live long enough, will eventually become unhealthy. So it should not at all come as a surprise to anyone, that the vast majority of women with “healthy” obesity (a misnomer, as in my view, the medical term “obesity” should only apply to people who already have health problems attributable to abnormal or excess body fat), eventually end up with “unhealthy” obesity. This, essentially, is the gist of a paper by Nathalie Eckel and colleagues, published in The Lancet. In their study of 90,257 participants of the Nurses Health Study, who were followed-up from 1980 to 2010 for incident cardiovascular disease (representing over 2 million person-years of follow-up), they found that around 80% of metabolically healthy women with obesity converted to metabolically unhealthy obesity over the course of follow-up. But one might say that this was only marginally higher that the 70% of metabolically healthy “normal weight” women, who also converted to metabolically unhealthy over the 20 years of observation. In fact, the population-attributable risk of the latter group was much higher, as it consisted of almost 10 times the number of women than in the former. While the risk of cardiovascular disease was statistically elevated (by about 40%) in the metabolically healthy women with obesity, this risk was 243% higher in metabolically unhealthy women with normal weight, 260% higher in metabolically unhealthy women with overweight and 315% higher in metabolically unhealthy women with obesity, all compared to metabolically healthy women with normal weight. So, yes, women with metabolically “healthy obesity” have a high risk of becoming metabolically unhealty and developing cardiovascular disease, so are metabolically healthy normal-weight women. Overall, I believe it is safe to say that the vast majority of metabolically healthy women (regardless of body weight) will eventually become metabolically unhealthy, at which time their risk for cardiovascular disease increases. Bottom line, everyone (not just women with obesity) will benefit from efforts to stay as metabolically healthy as possible for as long as possible – fortunately, we know that healthy diets and regular physical activity (while not necessarily preventing weight gain) can help maintain metabolic health, irrespective of current body weight. Clearly, living as healthy as possible is not just good advice for women with obesity – who would have guessed? @DrSharma Edmonton, AB p.s. although this was a study in women, I have no doubt whatsoever that the findings also apply to men… Read More »

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Are Bariatric Centres of Excellence Meeting The Standards of Care?

Anyone familiar with the issue, would readily agree that the actual surgery involved in bariatric surgery is only a small (but undeniably important) technical piece in what is a rather complex treatment for a rather complex chronic disease. Clearly, this is not exactly how all bariatric surgeons approach or treat their bariatric patients. Since 2012, the US has a Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery Accreditation and Quality Improvement Program that designates bariatric surgery centers as Centres of Excellence if they meet specified requirements in 7 core standards that include case volume, commitment to quality, appropriate use of equipment and instruments, critical care support, continuum of care, data collection, and continuous quality improvement. However, as a recent paper by Andrew Ibrahim and colleagues, published in JAMA Surgery, elaborates, despite these quality criteria, there remains a substantial variability in outcomes across designated Bariatric Centres of Excellence. Based on their retrospective analysis of claims data from 145 527 patients who underwent bariatric procedures, there was a 17-fold variation (ranging from 0.6% to 10.3%) in rates of serious 30-day complications across accredited bariatric centers nationally and up to 9.5-fold variation across individual states. As the authors note, “this finding suggests that participation alone in the Center of Excellence Program did not ensure uniform high-quality care….Given that most bariatric procedures are now performed at accredited centers, wide variation among these centers suggests that accreditation alone does not discriminate enough to guide patients to the best centers for care.” Moreover, they found that poor performing centres were often located close to better performing centres (regression to the mean?). Interestingly, in contrast to what one may suspect, outcomes overall were not related to case volume (perhaps because in order to be a designated Centre of Excellence, all centres needed to have a minimum number of cases per year). Rather, the authors discuss that poorer outcomes may be largely attributable to varying technical skills of the surgeons as well as inconsistent adherence to accepted bariatric care pathways. Finally, the authors argue that there is  need to make performance data available to the public, as simply trusting in the “Centre of Excellence” designation by no means guarantees excellent outcomes. As important as these data may be, it is also important to note that this paper only looked at complications within a 30-day time period following surgery. As anyone dealing with bariatric patients is well aware, successful outcomes of bariatric surgery(as well as its… Read More »

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Liraglutide Effects on Upper Gastrointestinal Investigations: Implications Prior to Bariatric Surgery

With the considerable waits that patients in Canada often face prior to bariatric surgery, we generally recommend that patients, who have access to them, try anti-obesity medications while waiting. This not only prevents further wait gain, but also often helps them shed a significant amount of weight prior to surgery. The GLP-1 analogue liraglutide is now approved for long-term obesity treatment and is generally well tolerated. Nevertheless, we now present a series of patients in Obesity Surgery, who were treated with liraglutide 3.0 mg whilst waiting for bariatric surgery, and showed significant upper GI dismotility that was reversible on discontinuation of liraglutide. Although, investigations of upper GI motility are by no means part of routine assessment for bariatric surgery, tests may be ordered in patients who present with unclear upper GI symptoms, as the findings may guide the choice of surgical intervention. In this paper, we present six cases in which patients treated with liraglutie 3.0 mg presented with varying degrees of esophageal and/or gastric dysmotility demonstrated using a variety of investigative procedures including formal gastric emptying scintiography as well as less specific  esophageal manometry, and upper endoscopy. In all cases normal motility was restored on discontinuation of liraglutide and all patients subsequently underwent or are continuing to wait for bariatric surgery. Based on our observations we discuss that, “Liraglutide is associated with decreased esophageal peristalsis and gastric emptying. These effects can result in abnormal upper GI investigations, leading to delays, increased testing, and questions of patient candidacy for surgery. If patients on liraglutide are noted to have abnormal esophageal manometry or gastric emptying studies, medication should be discontinued, with repeat studies done to look for reversibility. If this abnormal result is due to drug effect, this should not preclude patients from having bariatric surgery.” Just how long liraglutide needs to be stopped prior to performing upper GI investigations remains unclear. Furthermore, as the dysmotility often appears to be symptomless and well-tolerated, we do not recommend routine ordering of motility tests in patients treated with liraglutide. @DrSharms Edmonton, AB Disclaimer: I have served as a consultant and speaker for Novo Nordisk, the makers of liraglutide.

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Why Weight-Loss Challenges Send the Wrong Message

I was recently, once again asked about my opinion on weight-loss challenges. So here is a repost of an article I wrote back in 2008 on this topic – apparently, it is still as relevant today, as it was almost a decade ago. There appears to be a rather widespread notion out there that introducing a bit of competition into the affair may spurn people on to try and lose those “extra” pounds. In fact, a quick google search on the term “weight-loss challenge” reveals an amazing array of challenges from voyeuristic and sadistic TV shows like the “Biggest Loser” to well-meant workplace wellness initiatives or fund raisers. I am sorry to admit that I recently even became aware of a weight-loss challenge within my own hospital – well intended, but useless in the fight against obesity. So what’s wrong with this idea? Isn’t competition a great motivator? Sure it is – and people will do anything to win a competition – including crazy stuff like starve themselves, exercise till they drop, or even (God forbid) pop diet pills, diuretics or laxatives just to win. All of this is in direct contradiction to a fundamental principle of obesity management: you do not do things to lose weight that you are unlikely to continue doing to keep the weight off. Most people seem to think that if only they could lose some weight, they will somehow be able maintain that lower body weight in the long-term with less effort. The reality unfortunately is (and most dieters have experienced this over and over again) that no matter what diet or exercise routine you chose, no matter how slow or fast you lose the weight, no matter how long you keep the weight off – the minute you relax your efforts, the weight simply comes back. As I have blogged before: obesity is a chronic disease for which we have no cure – only treatments! When you stop the treatment the weight (and any related problem) simply comes back. By now you will already have figured out the problem with these challenges – unless you are very modest and reasonable about your weight-loss target and are carefully making changes that you can reasonably sustain forever, you are simply setting yourself up for failure. If you are indeed modest and reasonable – you’ve already lost the competition to all the crazy folks who’ll do… Read More »

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We Need To Change The Public-Health Narrative On Obesity

While at the level of the individual, clinicians are beginning to acknowledge the vast body of research now showing that “lifestyle” approaches to managing obesity (“eat-less move more”) result in minimal outcomes (3-5% sustainable weight loss at best), public health attempts to address the obesity epidemic continue to perpetuate the myth that obesity (and its prevention) is simply about getting people to eat better and move more (with very little  evidence to show that such measures can be implemented at a population level to effect any noticeable change in obesity rates). In an article I co-authored with Ximena Ramos-Salas, published in Current Obesity Reports, we provide an in-depth overview of current public health policies to address obesity in Canada and argue that the “narrative” underlying these policies is an important driver of weight-bias and discrimination and significantly hindering efforts to provide Canadians living with obesity better access to obesity prevention and treatment efforts. As we state in the article (based on original research by Ramos-Salas and others), “A critical review of Canadian obesity prevention policies and strategies revealed five prevailing narratives about obesity: “(1) childhood obesity threatens the health of future generations and must be prevented; (2) obesity can be prevented through healthy eating and physical activity; (3) obesity is an individual behavior problem; (4) achieving a healthy body weight should be a population health target; and (5) obesity is a risk factor for other chronic diseases not a disease in itself”. These narratives create the opportunity for Canadian obesity policy recommendations to focus mainly on individual-based healthy eating and physical activity interventions. By simplifying the causes of obesity as unhealthy eating and lack of physical activity, these policies may be contributing to the belief that obesity can be solely controlled through individual behaviors. This belief is a fundamental driver of weight bias.” This “world-view” of obesity at the level of policy makers has a significant impact on the willingness and capacity of health systems to provide access to evidence-based obesity treatments to the nearly 7 million Canadian adults and children living with this chronic disease – in fact, the unwillingness to even consider obesity a chronic disease is a big part of the problem. “..the conceptualization of obesity as a risk factor in public health policies has implications for government action, by prioritizing prevention over treatment strategies and potentially alienating Canadians who already have obesity. The review concludes that… Read More »

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When To Recommend Weight Loss For Obesity

Obesity medicine, which I define as the medical care of someone living with obesity, should approach patients holistically with the aim of improving their overall health and well-being. Advice to lose weight may or may not be part of obesity management – much can be gained for someone living with obesity by promoting their health behaviours, getting them to feel better about themselves, improving their mental health, and helping them better managing their health issues.  Much of this can be achieved with no or very little weight loss. Thus, we must consider the question of when weight loss would specifically need to be part of the treatment objectives. In my own practice, I approach this problem by considering the following three questions: Is this a problem unrelated to abnormal or excess body weight? Is this a problem aggravated by abnormal or excess body weight? Is this a problem caused by abnormal or excess body weight? From what I hear from my patients, the most common mistakes in medical practice fall into the first group – trying to address unrelated issues with weight loss recommendations. There are endless stories of patients going to see their health provider with problems clearly unrelated to their body fat (e.g. a broken arm, a sore throat, the flu, depression, migraines, etc.), who simply get told to lose weight. Indeed, there is evidence to suggest that patients with obesity are less likely to undergo diagnostic testing, most likely based on the assumption that their problems are simply related to their excess weight. This is not only where grave medical errors can be made (late or misdiagnosis), but also where the advice to lose weight is clearly wrong. If the presenting problem has nothing to do with excess weight, then no amount of weight loss will fix it. The second category deals with issues that are not causally related to abnormal or excess body fat but where the underlying problem either causes more symptoms or is more difficult to treat because of the patient’s size or fat distribution. There are countless medical problems that fall into this category. For e.g.  a heart or respiratory problem entirely unrelated to excess weight (e.g. a valvular defect or asthma) can become worse, cause more symptoms, or be much more difficult to treat simply because of the patient’s size. This group also includes issues like neck or joint pain from a trauma… Read More »

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The Heterogeneity of Obesity

In the same manner in that there is not one predisposing factor for the development of obesity, the phenotypic clinical presentation of obesity is likewise extraordinarily heterogenous. (This has some authors speaking of “obesities” rather than “obesity”). While it is now well established that BMI is a measure of size rather than health, it is perhaps less well recognised how the different types of body fat and their storage in various fat depots and organs can contribute to cardiometabolic disease (location, location, location!). Now, a comprehensive review by Ian Neeland from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas, together with my colleagues Paul Poirier and JP Despres from Laval University in Quebec, published in Circulation discusses the cardiovascular and metabolic heterogeneity of obesity. As the authors point out, “Although the BMI has been a convenient and simple index to monitor the growth in obesity prevalence at the population level, many metabolic and clinical studies have revealed that obesity, when defined on the basis of the BMI alone, is a remarkably heterogeneous condition. For instance, patients with similar body weight or BMI values have been shown to display markedly different comorbidities and levels of health risk.” Not only has BMI never emerged as a significant component in risk engines such as the Framingham risk score, there are many individuals with obesity who never develop metabolic complications or heart disease during the course of their life. The paper offers a good review of what the author describe as adipose dysfunction or “adiposopathy” = “sick fat”. Thus, in some individuals, there is an accumulation of “unhealthy” fat (particularly visceral and ectopic fat), whereas in others, excess fat predominantly consists of “healthy” fat (predominantly in subcutaneous depots such as the hips and thighs). The authors thus emphasise the importance of measuring fat location with methods ranging from simple anthropometric measures (e.g. waist circumference) to comprehensive imaging techniques (e.g. MRI). The authors also provide a succinct overview of exactly how this “sick fat” contributes to cardiometabolic risk and briefly touches on the behavioural, medical, and surgical management of patients with obesity and elevated cardiometabolic risk. I, for one, was also happy to see the inclusion of the Edmonton Obesity Staging System in their reflections on this complex issue. This paper is certainly suggested reading for anyone interested in the link between obesity and cardiovascular disease. @DrSharma Edmonton, AB

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The Three Clinical Faces of Obesity

In my experience, patients presenting with obesity tend to fall into three categories, each of which requires a distinct management approach. They are 1) Active Gainers, 2) Weight Stable, and 3) Post-Weight Loss. Active Gainers are patients currently at their lifetime maximum and continuing to gain significant amounts of weight – i.e. more than the usual 0.5 to 1 lb/year. Patients in this category require immediate attention – if nothing happens, their weight will most likely just continue to increase. The good news is that in almost every patient in this category, there is an identifiable reason for the ongoing weight gain – this can be psychosocial (e.g. depression, binge-eating disorder, etc.), due to a medical comorbidity (arthritis, chronic pain, etc.) or medications (e.g. atypical antipsychotics, hypoglycemic agents, etc.). From a management perspective, the sooner we identify and address the underlying problem, the sooner we can slow or even halt the rate of weight gain – in this patient – gaining less weight than before is the first sign of success. There is really no point trying to embark on losing weight as long as the underlying problem driving the weight gain has not been addressed, as this is likely to make sustained weight loss even more unlikely that it already is.. Weight Stable patients are those that present with excess weight but are relatively weight stable. Even though they may be at their lifetime maximum, they have been pretty much the same weight (perhaps a few lbs up or down but nothing drastic) for several years (sometimes even decades). By definition, a patient who is weight stable is in caloric balance, and thus, by definition is not eating too much. In fact, these patients are eating the exact number of calories needed to sustain their bodies, which is why they are weight stable. (Remember, even if you are weight-stable eating 4000 Cal a day, you are technically not “overeating”.)  These patients of course have experienced significant weight gain in the past (historical weight gain), but whatever it was that caused them to gain weight is no longer an active problem (e.g. pregnancy, past depression, etc) – and therefore, probably doesn’t need to addressed (although, I always find it of interest to find out what caused the weight gain in the first place). With these patients, we can determine whether or not their weight is affecting their health, and if… Read More »

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