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5th Canadian Obesity Summit – Four More Days To Submit Your Abstracts!

banff-springs-hotelEvery two years the Canadian Obesity Network holds its National Obesity Summit – the only national obesity meeting in Canada covering all aspects of obesity – from basic and population science to prevention and health promotion to clinical management and health policy.

Anyone who has been to one of the past four Summits has experienced the cross-disciplinary networking and breaking down of silos (the Network takes networking very seriously).

Of all the scientific meetings I go to around the world, none has quite the informal and personal feel of the Canadian Obesity Summit – despite all differences in interests and backgrounds, everyone who attends is part of the same community – working on different pieces of the puzzle that only makes sense when it all fits together in the end.

The 5th Canadian Obesity Summit will be held at the Banff Springs Hotel in Banff National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, located in the heart of the Canadian Rockies (which in itself should make it worth attending the summit), April 25-29, 2017.

Yesterday, the call went out for abstracts and workshops – the latter an opportunity for a wide range of special interest groups to meet and discuss their findings (the last Summit featured over 20 separate workshops – perhaps a tad too many, which is why the program committee will be far more selective this time around).

So here is what the program committee is looking for:

  • Basic science – cellular, molecular, physiological or neuronal related aspects of obesity
  • Epidemiology – epidemiological techniques/methods to address obesity related questions in populations studies
  • Prevention of obesity and health promotion interventions – research targeting different populations, settings, and intervention levels (e.g. community-based, school, workplace, health systems, and policy)
  • Weight bias and weight-based discrimination – including prevalence studies as well as interventions to reduce weight bias and weight-based discrimination; both qualitative and quantitative studies
  • Pregnancy and maternal health – studies across clinical, health services and population health themes
  • Childhood and adolescent obesity – research conducted with children and or adolescents and reports on the correlates, causes and consequences of pediatric obesity as well as interventions for treatment and prevention.
  • Obesity in adults and older adults – prevalence studies and interventions to address obesity in these populations
  • Health services and policy research – reaserch addressing issues related to obesity management services which idenitfy the most effective ways to organize, manage, finance, and deliver high quality are, reduce medical errors or improve patient safety
  • Bariatric surgery – issues that are relevant to metabolic or weight loss surgery
  • Clinical management – clinical management of overweight and obesity across the life span (infants through to older adults) including interventions for prevention and treatment of obesity and weight-related comorbidities
  • Rehabilitation –  investigations that explore opportunities for engagement in meaningful and health-building occupations for people with obesity
  • Diversity – studies that are relevant to diverse or underrepresented populations
  • eHealth/mHealth – research that incorporates social media, internet and/or mobile devices in prevention and treatment
  • Cancer – research relevant to obesity and cancer

…..and of course anything else related to obesity.

Deadline for submission is October 24, 2016

To submit an abstract or workshop – click here

For more information on the 5th Canadian Obesity Summit – click here

For sponsorship opportunities – click here

Looking forward to seeing you in Banff next year!

Edmonton, AB


My Critical Review Of Critical Fat Studies: Obesity In Canada

obesity-in-canada-coverA few weeks ago, I was invited by the Editor of The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology to review Obesity in Canada, a collection of articles by Canadian and Australian authors, who identify themselves as “fat scholars” engaging in “critical fat studies”. (Edited by Jenny Ellison, Deborah McPhail, and Wendy Mitchinson).

Obviously, I have had multiple interactions with “fat scholars” over the years and have certainly always learnt a lot.

Indeed, I would be the first to admit that many of my own ideas about obesity, including the issue of whether or not obesity is a disease and, if so, how to define the clinical problem of obesity in a manner that does not automatically label a quarter of the population as “diseased”, has been shaped by this discourse.

Similarly, my own notions about obesity management, with a primary goal to improve health and well-being rather than simply moving numbers on the scale, are clearly influenced by ideas that first emerged from the “fat acceptance camp” (not exactly the same, but close enough).

Thus, there was certainly much in this compendium that I was already quite familiar with – which certainly made the reading of this 500 page volume most enjoyable.

Nevertheless, it is important to realise that “fat scholars” do not just see themselves as “scientists” – rather, they see the practice of “fat studies” as a political work, tightly (some might say dogmatically) bound to a frame of reference that is reminiscent of political “activism” rather than “science”.

Fat scholars (at least the ones represented in this volume) are not just critical of, but also appear most happy to discard the entire biomedical and population health discourse around obesity, as nothing more than (I paraphrase), “a thinly-veiled conspiracy by the biomedical establishment to create a moral panic that justifies the reassertion of normative identities pertaining to gender, race, class, and sexuality.

Accordingly, some fat scholars appear to be of the rather strong opinion that there is in fact no “global obesity epidemic” and even if there are perhaps a few more fat people around today than ever before, the health consequences of obesity are vastly overblown, and any recommendations or attempts to lose weight are not only ineffective but actually harmful.

Now, before you simply roll your eyes and decide to file away the whole exercise in the drawer that you reserve for global-warming deniers and anti-vaxxers, let me assure you that there is indeed a lot to be learnt from the discourse (at least I did).

For one, there are absolutely fascinating chapters on the history of fat activism in Canada (which apparently dates back to the early 70s), enlightening perspectives on Indigenous People’s encounters with obesity, the issue of “mother blaming”, and even a chapter on fat authenticity and the pursuit of hetero-romantic love in Vancouver.

There are stories about how kids and families experience childhood obesity intervention programs and how primary school teachers themselves struggle with being thrust into a role of being role models while struggling with their own personal response to the pervasive obesity messages.

Obviously, there are some ideas that may be harder to swallow than others.

Take for e.g, the notion that the “root cause” of fat phobia (at least according to fat scholars who rely on postmodern feminism, psychoanalysis, and queer theories), is simply a reflection of the femininity ascribed to body fat: because women need fat to menstruate, body fat can be seen as female reproductive material that, in patriarchy, must be contained, restrained, and ultimately eliminated.

Personally, I can no doubt think of a wide range of other “root causes” that would result in “fat phobia” and “weight stigma” without having to quite delve into feminism or queer theories – but that’s another story.

Or the notion that there is in fact no link between body fat and diabetes – something that is easily refuted by a host of experimental animal studies and clinical observations  (which, in the world of “fat scholars” do not appear to exist or are for some opaque reason deemed entirely irrelevant for the discourse).

Nevertheless, these “peculiarities” aside, I do admit that I found the book a very timely, relevant and enlightening read for anyone who is seriously interested in the issue of obesity and bold enough to step out beyond the typical biomedical discourse.

I would most certainly recommend this volume to people working in health policy and public health but also to clinicians, who seek to better understand some of the social aspects of the obesity discourse as it relates to their patients.

There is much in the volume that I perhaps disagree with or rather, see from a different perspective (I am after all a clinician) – however, openness to entertaining alternative views and ideas, and willingness to shift your own opinion and beliefs when new evidence emerges, is the defining characteristic of good scholarship – and I certainly remain a lifelong student.

Edmonton, AB

Disclaimer: I was given a complimentary copy of Obesity in Canada to review by the Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology


Metformin Attenuates Long-Term Weight Gain in Insulin-Resistant Adolescents

metformin-300x217The biguanide metformin is widely used for the treatment of type 2 diabetes. Metformin has also been shown to slow the progression from pre to full-blown type 2 diabetes. Moreover, metformin can reduce weight gain associated with psychotropic medications and polycystic ovary syndrome.

Now, a randomised controlled trial by M P van der Aa and colleagues from the Netherlands, published in Nutrition & Diabetes suggests that long-term treatment with metformin may stabilize body weight and improve body composition in adolescents with obesity and insulin resistance.

The randomised placebo-controlled double-blinded trial included 62 adolescents with obesity aged 10–16 years old with insulin resistance, who received 2000 mg of metformin or placebo daily and physical training twice weekly over 18 months.

Of the 42 participants (mean age 13, mean BMI 30), BMI was stabilised in the metformin group (+0.2 BMI unit), whereas the control group continued to gain weight (+1.2 BMI units).

While there was no significant difference in HOMA-IR, mean fat percentage reduced by 3% compared to no change in the control group.

Thus, the researcher conclude that long-term treatment with metformin in adolescents with obesity and insulin resistance can result in stabilization of BMI and improved body composition compared with placebo.

Given the rather limited effective options for addressing childhood obesity, this rather safe, simple, and inexpensive treatment may at least provide some relief for adolescents struggling with excess weight gain.

Edmonton, AB


Arguments For Calling Obesity A Disease #3: Once Established It Becomes A Lifelong Problem

Screen Shot 2016-05-22 at 8.54.34 PMContinuing in my miniseries on arguments that support calling obesity a disease, is the simple fact that, once established, it behaves like a chronic disease.

Thus, once people have accumulated excess or abnormal adipose tissue that affects their health, there is no known way of reversing the process to the point that this condition would be considered “cured”.

By “cured”, I mean that there is a treatment for obesity, which can be stopped without the problem reappearing. For e.g. we can cure an ear infection – a short course of antibiotics and the infection will resolve to perhaps never reappear. We can also cure many forms of cancer, where surgery or a bout of chemotherapy removes the tumour forever. Those conditions we can “cure” – obesity we cannot!

For all practical purposes, obesity behaves exactly like every other chronic disease – yes, we can modify the course or even ameliorate the condition with the help of behavioural, medical or surgical treatments to the point that it may no longer pose a health threat, but it is at best in “remission” – when the treatment stops, the weight comes back – sometimes with a vengeance.

And yes, behavioural treatments are treatments, because the behaviours we are talking about that lead to ‘remission’ are far more intense than the behaviours that non-obese people have to adopt to not gain weight in the first place.

This is how I explained this to someone, who recently told me that about five years ago he had lost a substantial amount of weight (over 50 pounds) simply by watching what he eats and maintaining a regular exercise program. He argued that he had “conquered” his obesity and would now consider himself “cured”.

I explained to him, that I would at best consider him in “remission”, because his biology is still that of someone living with obesity.

And this is how I would prove my point.

Imagine he and I tried to put on 50 pounds in the next 6 weeks – I would face a real upward battle and may not be able to put on that weight at all – he, in contrast, would have absolutely no problem putting the weight back on.

In fact, if he were to simply live the way I do, eating the amount of food I do, those 50 lbs would be back before he knows it.

His body is just waiting to put the weight back on whereas my biology will actually make it difficult for me simply put that weight on.

This is because his “set-point”, even 5 years after losing the weight, is still 50 lbs higher than my “set-point”, which is around my current weight (the heaviest I have ever been).

Whereas, he is currently working hard against his set-point, by doing what he is doing (watching what he eats, following a strict exercise routine), I would be working against my set-point by having to force myself to eat substantially more than my body needs or wants.

That is the difference! By virtue of having had 50 lb heavier, his biology has been permanently altered in that it now defends a weight that is substantially higher than mine.

His post-weight loss biology is very different from mine, although we are currently at about the same weight.

This is what I mean by saying he is in “remission”, thanks to his ongoing behavioural therapy.

Today, we understand much of this biology. We understand what happens when people try to lose weight and how hard the body fights to resist weight loss and to put the weight back on.

This is why, for all practical purposes, obesity behaves just like every other chronic disease and requires ongoing treatment to control – no one is ever “cured” of their obesity.

Not even people who have bariatric surgery – reverse the surgery and before you know it, the weight is back.

So, if for all practical purposes, obesity behaves like a chronic disease, why not just call a spade a spade?

Edmonton, AB

For an illustration on why obesity acts like a chronic disease watch this short TEDx talk


Is ADHD Sabotaging Your Weight Management Efforts?

sharma-obesity-adhdAre you an impulsive eater? Do you have a hard time meal planning or keeping a food journal? Do you find it hard to remember if you had breakfast or not (never mind what you actually ate)? Do you start every new diet or exercise program with super enthusiasm, only to lose interest a few days later? Does your day lack a routine (for no good reason)?

These are just some of the ways in which Attention Deficit Hypertactivity or just Attention Deficit Disorder (ADHD/ADD) can sabotage your efforts to control your weight.

Now, an article by Philip Asherson and colleagues from Kings College London, UK, published in The Lancet Psychiatry discuss important conceptual issues regarding the diagnosis and management of ADHD/ADD in adults.

Although ADHD/ADD is largely thought to be a problem in kids and youth, it remains a considerable and often undiagnosed issue in adults.

Thus, as the authors point out,

“…treatment of adult ADHD in Europe and many other regions of the world is not yet common practice, and diagnostic services are often unavailable or restricted to a few specialist centres.”

This is all the more surprising (and disappointing) given that adult patients respond similarly to current drug and psychosocial interventions, with the same benefits seen in children and adolescents.

With regard to diagnosis it is important to note that,

“Symptoms of ADHD cluster together into two key dimensions of inattention and hyperactivity-impulsivity, are reliably measured, and are strong predictors of functional impairments, but they reflect continuous traits rather than a categorical disorder.”

“Of particular relevance to adult ADHD is the relative persistence of inattention and improvements in hyperactive-impulsive symptoms during development, so that many patients who had the combined type presentation of ADHD as children present with predominantly inattentive symptoms as adults.” 

“In clinical practice, the continuous nature of ADHD should not present diagnostic difficulties in moderate-to-severe cases, but might cause difficulties in mild cases with more subtle forms of impairment. Careful attention is needed to assess the effect of ADHD symptoms on impairment and quality of life, including an understanding of the broader range of problems linked to ADHD (eg, executive function [self-regulation] impairments, sleep problems, irritability, and internal restlessness), in addition to functional impairments such as traffic accidents and occupational underachievement. Therefore, some individuals, who seem to function well, might nevertheless suffer from a substantial mental health problem related to ADHD.”

Key criteria according to DSM-5 include:

  • Mind seems elsewhere, even in the absence of any obvious distraction
  • Starts tasks, but quickly loses focus and is easily side-tracked
  • Fails to finish tasks in the workplace
  • Reporting unrelated thoughts
  • Problems returning calls, paying bills, keeping appointments
  • Difficulty in managing sequential tasks; difficulty in keeping materials and belongings in order; messy, disorganised work
  • Poor time management
  • Tends to fail to meet deadlines
  • Feeling restless
  • Unable or uncomfortable being still for an extended time, such as in restaurants or meetings
  • Might be perceived by others as being restless and difficult to keep up with
  • Butts into conversations or activities, might start using other people’s belongings without permission, might intrude into or take over what others are doing

Other common features, that do not quite rise to level of diagnostic criteria include include poor concentration, distractibility, restlessness, over-talkativeness, sleep problems, irritability, impulsiveness, and low self-esteem.

It is important to note that other mental or physical disorders can mimic some of the symptoms of ADHD. These include anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, hyperthyroidism and sleep apnea.

While the paper does not mention obesity or difficulties managing weight as a possible “complication” of ADHD, in my experience, identifying and treating ADHD in bariatric patients can often make all the difference.

Thus, I concur with the authors’ conclusions that,

“…ADHD should be recognised in the same way as other common adult mental health disorders, and that failure to recognise and treat ADHD is detrimental to the wellbeing of many patients seeking help for common mental health problems.”

Gothenburg, Sweden