While the health benefits associated with intentional weight loss for some complications of obesity (such as elevated lipids and diabetes) are well documented, high-quality studies to back many other potential health benefits are harder to find.
Just how well (or poorly) the putative health benefits of long-term intentional weight loss are documented for each of the many conditions associated with obesity, is now detailed in a comprehensive review of the literature that we just published in the Annual Reviews of Nutrition.
The 40 page long review, which includes almost 250 relevant publications, supports the following main findings:
- Defining and assessing clinically relevant obesity and weight change are challenging tasks. In a given individual, there is often little relationship between the magnitude of obesity and measures of health.
- Despite its modest effect on long-term weight loss, behavioral modifications thatimprove eating behaviors and increase physical activity constitute a cornerstone for integral and sustainable weight management.
- Intentional weight loss is associated with a clinically relevant reduction in blood pressure, improvement in cardiac function, and reduction in cardiovascular events. The duration and magnitude of weight change required to achieve a significant benefit are still unclear.
- In individuals with impaired glucose metabolism at any stage, intentional weight loss achieved by any means is associated with a proportional reduction in T2DM prevalence, severity, and progression.
- Intentional weight loss is consistently associated with a clinically relevant reduction in triglycerides and increase in HDL cholesterol. The effects of weight loss on LDL cholesterol are less consistent.
- Overall, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease is commonly associated with excess weight and can show marked improvement with behavioral, pharmacological, and/or surgical weight loss. Very rapid weight loss, however, may worsen liver histology in some patients. Simi- larly, gallbladder disease is not only common in patients presenting with obesity but also highly prevalent after intentional weight loss.
- Obesity is widely recognized as a key modifiable risk factor for osteoarthritis, with sig- nificant improvements in pain and function reported with weight loss.
- Obstructive sleep apnea and obesity hypoventilation syndrome tend to improve with moderate weight loss; however, complete resolution is not common and is related to very significant weight loss.
- Asthma and COPD are clearly associated with obesity. Sustained weight loss seems to be associated with a significant improvement in asthma symptoms. Data for COPD are rather limited.
- Pregnant women who under go bariatric surgery seem to be less likely to present obstetric complications such as gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, and macrosomia.
- Data on weight loss and suicide are controversial. Caution may be in order when con- sidering bariatric surgery in patients with a history of suicide ideation or attempt.
- Data suggest that long-term weight loss is associated with an improvement in health- related quality of life. The amount of weight loss required to achieve a significant change, however, remains controversial.
However, there are many other issues where putative benefits of intentional weight loss remain even less clear than with the above.
For many conditions we will likely not know the long-term benefits of obesity treatments till better treatments become available and are tested in affected individuals.
The recent appointment of the Hon. Sarah Hoffman (NDP) to the post of Health Minister in Alberta has (as expected) prompted a wide range of remarks regarding her suitability for the job – not because of her qualifications as an administrator (these are uncontested) – but her size!
In a slurry of comments ranging from misguided misogynistic remarks (sadly, including by members of the former government) to outright personal insults, the social media frenzy around this topic is anything but unexpected.
The general story line is that someone living with obesity, who is thus obviously “unhealthy”, is not qualified be a health minister.
Indeed, one letter writer in the Edmonton Journal likens putting someone living with obesity in this position, to appointing a health minister who smokes – a fatal (but common) misconception of what obesity actually is.
For one, smoking is a behaviour – living with obesity is not!
When you inhale the smoke of a cigarette you are doing something (a behaviour) – when you gain (or lose) weight, it is something your body does (whether you want it to or not).
This distinction is fundamental: when I stop smoking, I become a non-smoker – end of story!
When I try to lose weight, my body will do everything it possibly can to resist losing weight. My appetite will increase, my metabolic rate will slow down, my body temperature will decrease, my thyroid function will decrease, my sense of taste and smell will increase, as will my risk-taking behaviour and my susceptibilty to stress. All of these changes (often referred to as the “starvation response”) will work day-and-night to “sabotage” my efforts and in 95% of people who set out to lose weight, these mechanism will eventually win out – even years after starting on their diet.
Every person I know who has ever lost a considerable amount of weight and is keeping it off, describes this as a daily on-going struggle. They are well aware that even the slightest interruption to their routine, an illness, an injury, a new medication, even just relationship issues or financial stressors and – boom – their weight is back, whether they like it or not.
This is why the WHO, the FDA, the AMA and a growing number of health organisations around the world are now calling obesity a chronic disease, because sadly, we have yet to find a cure for this condition.
Despite what celebrity pundits and the weight-loss industry may want you to believe, there are no easy solutions and try as they may, most people with excess weight will have to fight hard simply not to get any heavier.
So for one, even if Sarah Hoffman wanted to lose a few pounds, the chances that she will keep them off on her own in the long term are slim (unless of course she happens to belong to the lucky 5%). If she is looking for medical treatment, even surgery, I wish her good luck trying to access those services here in Alberta – welcome to the waiting list!
The other assumption underlying the criticism of Minister Hoffman, is the notion that obesity is a direct reflection of someone’s health behaviours – i.e. eating too much junkfood or not exercising.
Believe me that I have seen many patients in my clinic, who rarely (if ever) touch junk food, who spend hours in the gym, and still weigh in at 350 lbs or more. There is (and has been for a long time) enough scientific evidence to support the fact that people vary remarkably in their susceptibility to weight gain (and weight loss). The amount of weight gained by eating exactly the same amount of excess calories can vary as much as 5-fold between individuals.
So for all we know, Sarah Hoffman (like most people living with excess weight) is already well-informed and concerned about her diet and I’d hardly be surprised if, despite her busy schedule, she does manage to squeeze in as much physical activity into her daily routine as she possibly can.
But, irrespective of all of the above, there are simply so many different causes of weight gain (from genetics, to mental health, to sleep deprivation, to stress, to eating norms and culture, adverse childhood experiences, to medications – even perhaps the bugs that happen to live in your gut), that judging someone about their health knowledge or behaviours by looking at their size is truly laughable.
Indeed, who better to have as a health minister, than someone living with a chronic disease?
Would anyone seriously object to Sarah Hoffman’s appointment as Health Minister, were she living with diabetes, chronic kidney failure, coronary artery disease, HIV/AIDS, depression or for that matter cancer (even lung cancer)?
The only real difference between obesity and any of the above conditions is that obesity is visible for anyone to see (and apparently fair game for anyone to comment on).
Whether or not Sarah Hoffman turns out to be a capable and competent health minister remains to be seen – I am certain that neither her success nor failure will have anything to do with her size.
Perhaps it will take a Health Minister living with obesity, to finally create a health system, where people living with obesity are treated with compassion and respect and, most importantly, can find the help and treatments that they need.
If you are planning to attend the 4th Canadian Obesity Summit in Toronto next week (and anyone else, who is interested), you can now download the program app on your mobile, tablet, laptop, desktop, eReader, or anywhere else – the app works on all major platforms and operating systems, even works offline.
You can access and download the app here.
(To watch a brief video on how to install this app on your device click here)
You can then create an individual profile (including photo) and a personalised day-by-day schedule.
Obviously, you can also search by speakers, topics, categories, and other criteria.
Hoping to see you at the Summit next week – have a great weekend!
Last week at the 8th Annual Obesity Symposium hosted by the European Surgery Institute in Norderstedt, one of the case presentations included an individual with type 1 diabetes (no insulin production), who had gained weight and subsequently also developed increasing insulin resistance, the hallmark of type 2 diabetes.
In my discussion, I referred to this as 1+2 diabetes, or in other words, type 3 diabetes.
Unfortunately, it turns out that the term type 3 diabetes has already been proposed for the type of neuronal insulin resistance found in patients with Alzheimer’s disease.
As discussed in a paper by Suzanne de la Monte and Jack Wands published in the Journal of Diabetes Science and Technology,
“Referring to Alzheimer’s disease as Type 3 diabetes (T3DM) is justified, because the fundamental molecular and biochemical abnormalities overlap with T1DM and T2DM rather than mimic the effects of either one.”
These findings have considerable implications for our understanding of Alzheimer’s disease as a largely neuroendocrine disorder, which may in part be amenable to treatment with drugs normally used to treat type 1 and/or type 2 diabetes.
In retrospect, I believe, whoever came up with the term type 3 diabetes for Alzheimer’s disease, should perhaps have called it type 4 diabetes, given that the 1+2 diabetes is now increasingly common (and well studied) in patients with type 1 diabetes, who go on to develop type 2 diabetes (which, as discussed at the symposium responds quite well to bariatric or “metabolic” surgery).
Today I will be attending a Summit on Weight Bias at the University of Calgary, that will explore the the issue of weight-based discrimination and ways to address this – especially in health care settings.
It should come as no surprise that weight bias and discrimination are a major barrier to providing proper preventive and therapeutic health care due to the widespread attitudes and beliefs about obesity that exist amongst health professionals and decision makers.
The scientific summit, co-sponsored by the Canadian Obesity Network, Campus Alberta, and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), is complemented by a public Cafe Scientifique that will be held on Thursday, March 12, 7.00 at the Parkdale Community Association, 3512 – 5 Ave NW, in Calgary.
For more information and pre-registration for this free public event, which features
Leora Pinhas, MD
Child & Adolescent Psychiatrist, Physician Lead, Eating Disorders Unit, Ontario Shores Centre for Mental Health Sciences Assistant Professor, University of Toronto
Tavis Campbell, PhD
Professor, Department of Psychology and Oncology & Director, Behavioural Medicine Laboratory, University of Calgary
Yoni Freedhoff, MD, CCFP
Medical Director, Bariatric Medical Institute, Assistant Professor, University of Ottawa