Friday, July 11, 2014

Is Weight Gain Typical in Atypical Depression?

sharma-obesity-depressionDepression or major depressive disorder (MDD) is not only one of the most common psychiatric problems, it also comes in many flavours.

While melancholic or “typical” depression is characterized by a loss of pleasure in most or all activities (anhedonia), a failure of reactivity to pleasurable stimuli, psychomotor retardation and a strong sense of guilt, “atypical” depression is characterized by mood reactivity (paradoxical anhedonia), excessive sleep or sleepiness (hypersomnia), a sensation of heaviness in limbs, and significant social impairment as a consequence of hypersensitivity to perceived interpersonal rejection.

An important further distinction is that “typical” depression is commonly associated with loss of appetite and weight loss, whereas “atypical” depression typically involves increased appetite (comfort eating), often with significant weight gain.

Now a study by Aurélie Lasserre and colleagues from Switzerland, published in JAMA Psychiatry, looks at the risk for weight gain in patients with different forms of depression.

The prospective population-based cohort study, included 3054 randomly selected residents of the City of Lausanne (mean age, 49.7 years; 53.1% were women) with 5.5 years of follow-up.

Depression subtypes according to the DSM-IV, as well as sociodemographic characteristics, lifestyle (alcohol and tobacco use and physical activity), and medication, were elicited using the semistructured diagnostic interviews.

As expected, only participants with the “atypical” subtype of MDD at baseline had a higher increase in adiposity and were about 3.75 times more likely to have developed obesity during follow-up than participants without MDD.

This association remained robust even after adjustment for a wide range of confounders.

Thus, as the authors note,

The atypical subtype of MDD is a strong predictor of obesity. This emphasizes the need to identify individuals with this subtype of MDD in both clinical and research settings. Therapeutic measures to diminish the consequences of increased appetite during depressive episodes with atypical features are advocated.

Although we should be wary of those antidepressants that can cause weight gain, an early diagnosis and treatment of atypical depression may well prevent further weight gain and perhaps facilitate weight loss in patients with atypical depression.

Clearly, screening for “atypical” depression must be an essential part of obesity assessment and management.

@DrSharma
Edmonton, AB

ResearchBlogging.orgLasserre AM, Glaus J, Vandeleur CL, Marques-Vidal P, Vaucher J, Bastardot F, Waeber G, Vollenweider P, & Preisig M (2014). Depression With Atypical Features and Increase in Obesity, Body Mass Index, Waist Circumference, and Fat Mass: A Prospective, Population-Based Study. JAMA psychiatry PMID: 24898270

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Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Does BMI Underestimate Adiposity in Kids?

sharma-obesity-kids-scale2Regular readers are well aware of my reservations regarding the use of BMI as a diagnostic parameter in clinical practice. After all, while BMI may tell us how big someone is, it certainly is not a good measure of how sick someone is.

But to be honest, BMI was never intended as a measure of disease – it was (at best) introduced as a surrogate measure of adiposity (fatness).

Nevertheless, supporters of BMI continue to argue that it is still a good measure of fatness and as such should remain part of standard assessment – even in kids.

Now, a paper by Javed and colleagues, published in Pediatric Obesity, examines how well BMI performs as a means to identify obesity as defined by body fatness in children and adolescents.

The authors conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis of 37 studies in over 53,000 participants assessing the diagnostic performance of BMI to detect adiposity in children up to 18 years.

While the commonly used BMI cut-offs for obesity showed showed a high specificity (0.93) to detect high adiposity, the sensitivity was much lower (0.73) – particularly in boys.

This means that kids who exceed the current BMI cut-offs are indeed very likely to have fatter bodies (for what it’s worth).

On the other hand, relying on BMI cut-offs alone will miss as many as 25% of kids whose body fat percentage exceeds current definitions of adiposity.

Thus, assuming that bod fatness or adiposity is indeed a clinically useful measure of health, the use of BMI alone will ‘underdiagnose’ adiposity in a significant proportion of kids (especially boys) who may well be at risk from excess fat.

A word of caution about fatness is certainly in order – as in adults, much depends on exactly where the fat is located (abdominal or ectopic vs. subcutaneous) and other factors (e.g. cell size, inflammation, insulin sensitivity, etc.).

Thus, even if BMI was a perfect measure of body fat, it would probably still require further examinations and tests to determine exactly whether or not this “extra” fat poses a health risk.

As in adults, a clinical staging system similar to the Edmonton Obesity Staging System may be a fat better indicator of determining which kids may need to worry about their body fat and which don’t.

@DrSharma
Edmonton, AB

Hat tip to Kristi Adamo for pointing me to this study

ResearchBlogging.orgJaved A, Jumean M, Murad MH, Okorodudu D, Kumar S, Somers VK, Sochor O, & Lopez-Jimenez F (2014). Diagnostic performance of body mass index to identify obesity as defined by body adiposity in children and adolescents: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Pediatric obesity PMID: 24961794

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Friday, June 20, 2014

Your Body Thinks Obesity Is A Disease

sharma-obesity-adipose-tissue-macrophageYesterday, the 4th National Obesity Student Summit (#COSM2014) featured a debate on the issue of whether or not obesity should be considered a disease.

Personally, I am not a friend of such “debates”, as the proponents are forced to take rather one-sided positions that may not reflect their own more balanced and nuanced opinions.

Nevertheless, the four participants in this “structured” debate, Drs. Sharon Kirkpatrick and Samantha Meyer on the “con” team and Drs. John Mielke and Russell Tupling on the “pro” team (all from the University of Waterloo) valiantly defended their assigned positions.

While the arguments on the “con” side suggested that “medicalising” obesity would detract attention from a greater focus prevention while cementing the status quo and feeding into the arms of the medical-industrial complex, the “pro” side argued for better access to treatments (which should not hinder efforts at prevention).

But a most interesting view on this was presented by Tupling, who suggested that we only have to look as far as the body’s own response to excess body fat (specifically visceral fat) to determine whether or not obesity is a disease.

As he pointed out, the body’s own immunological pro-inflammatory response to excess body fat, a generic biological response that the body uses to deal with other “diseases” (whether acute or chronic) should establish that the body clearly views this condition as a disease.

Of course, as readers are well aware, this may not always be the case – in fact, the state of “healthy obesity” is characterized by this lack of immunological response both locally within the fat tissue as well as systemically.

Obviously, it will be of interest to figure out why some bodies respond to obesity as a disease and others don’t – but from this perspective, the vast majority of people with excess weight are in a “diseased” state – at least if you asked their bodies.

While this is a very biological argument for the case – it is indeed a very insightful one: it is not the existence of excess body fat that defines the “disease” rather, how the body responds to this “excess” is what makes you sick.

As readers, are well aware, there are several other arguments (including ethical and utilitarian considerations) that favour the growing consensus on viewing obesity as a disease.

Of course,  calling obesity a disease should not detract us from prevention efforts, but, as I often point out, just because be treat diabetes or cancer as diseases, does not mean that we do not make efforts to prevent them.

If calling obesity a disease increases resources towards better dealing with this problem and helps take away some of the shame and blame – so be it.

@DrSharma
Waterloo, Ontario

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Monday, June 16, 2014

Diagnosing Obesity

sharma-obesity-scale3I am currently attending the 74th Scientific Session of the American Diabetes Association in San Francisco, where obesity is certainly a topic that permeates its way through much of the program.

However, despite all this talk, obesity continues to not be “formally” recognized as a “diagnosis” when it comes to patient care.

Thus, a paper by Canadian Obesity Network boot camper Bliie-Jean Martin and colleagues from the University of Calgary, published in BMC Health Services Research, the coding for obesity in administrative data bases and hospital discharge data is rather sketchy.

For their study, Martin and colleagues used a large coronary catheterization registry and a hospital discharge abstract database, which together consisted of more than 17,000 patients.

Based on how often the ICD-10 codes for obesity (E65-68) appeared in these datasets, it is evident that obesity was poorly coded for in the discharge database – in fact, only 2.4% of the discharge abstracts had this diagnosis (in contrast to about 20% of patients in the cardiac registry – which is likely to be more accurate).

Assuming the actual prevalence of obesity to be at least as high in patients discharged from hospital, as it is in the cardiac registry, the sensitivity of identifying obese patients based on the coding of the diagnosis is only about 8% – this means the vast majority of cases of obesity would be missed.

On the other hand, in the few cases where obesity codes were included in the discharge data set, this label was indeed correct (99% specificity).

As the authors conclude, given this state of affairs, hospital discharge databases are highly unreliable when it comes to determining obesity prevalence or burden of disease.

While there may certainly be other conditions that are “under diagnosed” and do not find themselves well reflected in such databases, nowhere is the discrepancy between prevalence and coding likely to be as great as for obesity.

This rather cavalier attitude towards coding for obesity must change if we hope to better understand the importance of obesity related morbidity in the health care system.

@DrSharma
San Francisco, CA

ResearchBlogging.orgMartin BJ, Chen G, Graham M, & Quan H (2014). Coding of obesity in administrative hospital discharge abstract data: accuracy and impact for future research studies. BMC health services research, 14 PMID: 24524687

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Friday, June 13, 2014

AMA Calls For Better Access To Obesity Treatments

American-Medical-Association-logoOn the anniversary of the American Medical Association (AMA) “recognising” obesity as a disease, the AMA delegation yesterday passed a resolution on “Patient Access to Evidence-Based Obesity Services”, which gives the AMA decisive direction to support advocacy efforts to improve patient access to all evidence-based obesity treatments.

These treatments for obesity range from bariatric surgery and obesity drugs to intensive lifestyle interventions and nutrition counseling.

Regular readers will recall my previous posts on the various US organisations that are now not only viewing obesity as a chronic disease but are also demanding better access to obesity treatments for people with this condition.

This decision is widely applauded by other organisations including The Obesity Society and the American Society of Bariatric Physicians.

Hopefully, these efforts will go a long way towards reducing the bias and discrimination that people with obesity face in the healthcare system (and elsewhere) and help dispel the myth that all it takes to control your weight is a healthy dose of willpower.

Indeed, there is reason to believe that this AMA resolution will have significant implications for patients and the health care communityincluding:

  • improved training in obesity at medical schools and residency programs,
  • reduced stigma of obesity by the public and physicians,
  • improved insurance benefits for obesity-specific treatment, and
  • increased research funding for both prevention and treatment strategies.

Unfortunately, in Canada we have yet to see the Canadian Medical Association take a leadership role in this regard – hopefully, this is just a matter of time.

@DrSharma
Edmonton, Alberta

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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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