Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Should A Political Prescription For Obesity Not Also Include Better Treatments?

sharma-obesity-policy1In the latest issue of the Canadian Medical Association Journal, the editors opine on the need for a political prescription for obesity – in short taxation and regulation of  high-calorie and nutrient-poor food products as the only viable approach to the obesity epidemic. As may be expected, they use the analogy of tobacco as a justification for this approach (given that actual data from government intervention on reducing the consumption of the said foods is so far lacking).

Be that as it may, what caught my attention in the article was the following passage:

“Treating obesity does not work well; preventing it would be better. The global failure to manage obesity, now considered by the American Medical Association to be a disease, may be considered a failure of the evidence-based medicine approach to treating disease….We know that most restrictive diets result in only short-term weight loss that frequently reverses and worsens in the long term, but dietary changes that are sustainable as a lifestyle choice may work. Physical activity is not enough to prevent or treat obesity and overweight, unless it is combined with some kind of dietary intervention. Family and community interventions may work somewhat better than interventions aimed at individuals, but their implementation is patchy. Bariatric surgery has good results in the treatment of morbid obesity, but its use is always going to be limited and a last resort. Pharmaceutical agents may work to some extent, but may have nasty adverse effects.”

The interesting thought here is that the authors parade the lack of effective treatment as a justification for prevention, when I would rather have used this state of affairs to call for greater investments in finding better treatments.

Not that I am not in favour of prevention – indeed, I am all for preventing heart disease, diabetes, cancer, depression, bone and joint disease and everything else.

But, at no point would I ever call for prevention as an alternative to finding better treatments for any of these conditions.

The fact that people still die of cancer should never justify us abandoning the search for better treatments – indeed, as far I can see, the whole Pink Ribbon Industry apparently focusses on “finding the cure” – not on “finding better ways to prevent breast cancer” (even if most experts believe that much of breast cancer is indeed preventable).

Just because  we still have no effective treatments for a host of other conditions, should we abandon the search for better treatments for these conditions?

In short, what irks me most about this article is not the call for prevention – indeed I am all for it!

But when the lack of effective (or safe) treatments is used to justify this call, I must disagree.

No matter how much we restrict and tax the food industry, there will always be people around, who despite their best efforts, will struggle with excess weight. Indeed, there is no reason to believe (at least not for anyone who understands the physiology of obesity) that any form of “prevention” will reverse the epidemic in those who already have the problem – i.e. in about 6 Mill Canadians. (even if we somehow miraculously reduced obesity in the population by 30% through “preventive measures” (well beyond even the most optimistic predictions) – we would still need treatments for 4 Mill Canadians – adults and kids!)

The longer we wait to find and implement effective treatments, the longer these individuals will struggle with a condition that should deserve the same efforts at treatment as we afford individuals with other “lifestyle” diseases (including heart disease, diabetes and cancer).

Let us not forget that treatments for other common conditions (e.g. hypertension, hypercholesterolemia and diabetes) were once lacking – today millions around the world benefit from these treatments – indeed, it is probably safe to say that these medications probably save more lives each year than any known efforts at regulating industry that I know of.

Indeed, if we wish to find more effective ways to manage obesity, we need to vastly increase our efforts at finding better treatments – not abandon them.

Prevention is never an alternative to also having effective treatments. The two go hand-in-hand.

@DrSharma
Edmonton, AB

 

 

 

 

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Friday, October 24, 2014

Social Network Analysis of the Obesity Research Boot Camp

bootcamp_pin_finalRegular readers may recall that for the past nine years, I have had the privilege and pleasure of serving as faculty of the Canadian Obesity Network’s annual Obesity Research Summer Bootcamp.

The camp is open to a select group of graduate and post-graduate trainees from a wide range of disciplines with an interest in obesity research. Over nine days, the trainees are mentored and have a chance to learn about obesity research in areas ranging from basic science to epidemiology and childhood obesity to health policy.

Now, a formal network analysis of bootcamp attendees, published by Jenny Godley and colleagues in the Journal of Interdisciplinary Healthcare, documents the substantial impact that this camp has on the careers of the trainees.

As the analysis of trainees who attended this camp over its first 5 years of operation (2006-2010) shows, camp attendance had a profound positive impact on their career development, particularly in terms of establishing contacts and professional relationships.

Thus, both the quantitative and the qualitative results demonstrate the importance of interdisciplinary training and relationships for career development in obesity researcher (and possibly beyond).

Personally, participation at this camp has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my career and I look forward to continuing this annual exercise for years to come.

To apply for the 2015 Bootcamp, which is also open to international trainees – click here.

@DrSharma
Toronto, ON

ResearchBlogging.orgGodley J, Glenn NM, Sharma AM, & Spence JC (2014). Networks of trainees: examining the effects of attending an interdisciplinary research training camp on the careers of new obesity scholars. Journal of multidisciplinary healthcare, 7, 459-70 PMID: 25336965

 

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Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Disease Severity and Staging of Obesity

sharma-edmonton-obesity-staging-systemRegular readers will be well aware of our work on the Edmonton Obesity Staging System (EOSS), that classifies individuals living with obesity based on how “sick” rather than how “big” they are.

For a rather comprehensive review article on the issue of determining the severity of obesity and potentially using this as a guide to treatment, readers may wish to refer to a paper by Whyte and colleagues from the University of Surrey, UK, published in Current Atherosclerosis Reports.

This paper not only nicely summarizes the potential effects of obesity on various organs and organ systems but also discusses the use of staging systems (EOSS and Kings) as a way to better characterize the impact of excess weight on an individual.

As the authors note in their summary,

Using a holistic tool in addition to BMI allows highly informed decision-making and on a societal level helps to identify those most likely to gain and where economic benefit would be maximised.”

Not surprisingly, the Edmonton Obesity Staging System, which has been validated against large data sets as a far better predictor of mortality than BMI, waist circumference or metabolic syndrome, is being increasingly adopted as a practical tool to guide clinical practice.

@DrSharma
Merida, Mexico

ResearchBlogging.orgWhyte MB, Velusamy S, & Aylwin SJ (2014). Disease severity and staging of obesity: a rational approach to patient selection. Current atherosclerosis reports, 16 (11) PMID: 25278281

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Thursday, October 9, 2014

Are Smokers More Deserving of Treatment Than People Living With Obesity?

sharma-obesity-teen-smokingThis certainly appears to be the opinion of the majority of people living in Denmark, as reported in a study by Thomas Lund and colleagues published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

The study examined public support for publicly funded treatment of obesity (weight-loss surgery and medical treatment) and two pulmonary diseases strongly associated with smoking (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and lung cancer) in Denmark.

While a large majority supported treatment for lung cancer (86.1%) and COPD 71.2% (even when described as ‘smoker’s lung’ 61.9%), only one in three supported publicly funded weight-loss surgery (30%) and medical treatment of obesity (34.4%).

Not surprisingly, respondents beliefs about the causes of lifestyle-related diseases (external environment, genetic disposition and lack of willpower) and agreement that ‘people lack responsibility for their life and welfare’ influenced support for these treatments, especially in the case of treatments for obesity.

My guess is that these finding will not be significantly different in other countries that have publicly funded health care systems, including the UK or Canada, where treatments for cigarette-related lung and heart disease (as well as treatments for smoking cessation) are by far more accepted and accessible than treatments for obesity.

While I am all for treating and perhaps even further improving the care of people with smoking-related health problems, not having the same degree of concern or accessibility to treatments for obesity should be unacceptable.

@DrSharma
Edmonton, AB

ResearchBlogging.orgLund TB, Nielsen ME, & Sandøe P (2014). In a class of their own: the Danish public considers obesity less deserving of treatment compared with smoking-related diseases. European journal of clinical nutrition PMID: 25248357

 

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Friday, October 3, 2014

Obesity 5As At The Armed Forces

sharma-obesity-canadian-forcesThis morning I am presenting a workshop on the Canadian Obesity Network’s 5As of Obesity Management to members of the Canadian Armed Forces here in Ottawa.

As I discussed in a previous post, members of the Armed Forces are not immune to weight-gain – if anything, the considerable stressors encountered by military personnel make them perhaps even more prone to weight gain than civilians.

And, as for civilians, there are no easy solutions. Once the weight is on, military personnel face the same challenges in losing weight and keeping it off (if indeed their excess weight is affecting their health) as everybody else.

I look forward to an exciting discussion with the medical personnel on base about how best to apply the 5As of Obesity Management in their practice.

@DrSharma
Ottawa, ON

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In The News

Diabetics in most need of bariatric surgery, university study finds

Oct. 18, 2013 – Ottawa Citizen: "Encouraging more men to consider bariatric surgery is also important, since it's the best treatment and can stop diabetic patients from needing insulin, said Dr. Arya Sharma, chair in obesity research and management at the University of Alberta." Read article

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