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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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Electronic Versus Pen And Paper Monitoring Of Food Intake

diet journalSelf-monitoring is one of the few proven strategies for long-term weight management (which is why all programs worth their weight use it).

But does it really matter how you self-monitor and are electronic forms more accurate than simply using pen and paper?

This issue was examined by Melinda Hutchesson and colleagues from the University of South Wales, Australia, in a paper published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

The researchers examined the acceptability and accuracy of three different 7-day food record methods (online accessed via computer, online accessed via smartphone, and paper-based) in 18 young normal-weight women.

Actual energy expenditure was measured using indirect calorimetry and physical activity levels derived from accelerometers.

All three methods revealed roughly the same amount of daily caloric intake, falling short by about 500 kcal of the actual measured expenditure.

Nevertheless, around 90% of the participants preferred an electronic method to the paper based method.

Thus, the author argue that,

“Because online food records completed on either computer or smartphone were as accurate as paper-based records but more acceptable to young women, they should be considered when self-monitoring of intake is recommended to young women.”

As far as I am concerned, you can use whatever method you want as long as you use some form of self-monitoring. After all, it is the act of self-monitoring that counts – as with diets, this only works when you actually do it.

@DrSharma
Edmonton, AB

ResearchBlogging.orgHutchesson MJ, Rollo ME, Callister R, & Collins CE (2014). Self-Monitoring of Dietary Intake by Young Women: Online Food Records Completed on Computer or Smartphone Are as Accurate as Paper-Based Food Records but More Acceptable. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics PMID: 25262244

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Monday, September 29, 2014

Does Lean Tissue Have More To Say About Your Health Than Your Body Fat?

Carla Prado, PhD,  Assistant Professor and CAIP Chair in Nutrition, Food and Health, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada

Carla Prado, PhD, Assistant Professor and CAIP Chair in Nutrition, Food and Health, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada

The common assumption is that people with more body fat are at greater risk for illness and overall mortality.

Surprisingly, an increasingly robust body of evidence now suggests that how much lean tissue you have may be far more important for your health than the amount of body fat.

This evidence as well as the methodologies used to study lean body mass are discusses in a paper by Carla Prado (University of Alberta) and Steve Heymsfield (Pennington Biomedical Research Center), in a paper published in the Journal of Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition.

As the authors point out,

“The emerging use of imaging techniques such as dual energy x-ray absorptiometry, computerized tomography, magnetic resonance imaging, and ultrasound imaging in the clinical setting have highlighted the importance of lean soft tissue (LST) as an independent predictor of morbidity and mortality.

The paper discusses in depth the advantages and limitation of the many methods that can be used to assess body composition in research and clinical settings.

The paper also discusses the current definition and importance of sarcopenic obesity and notes that,

“The identification of different body composition phenotypes suggests that individuals have different metabolism and hence utilization of fuel sources.”

Thus,

“It is clear from emerging studies that body composition health will be vital in treatment decisions, prognostic outcomes, and quality of life in several nonclinical and clinical states.”

My guess is that it will not just be the absolute or relative amount of lean tissue mass that is important. Rather, similar to the increasingly recognised role of differences amongst fat depots, I would assume that different lean soft tissue depots may well play different roles in metabolic health.

@DrSharma
Charlottetown, PEI

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Monday, September 22, 2014

What Can We Learn From the Sweetener and Gut Bug Study?

sharma-obesity-gut-buts1Last week, a paper by Jotham Suez and colleagues on the potential detrimental effect of artificial sweeteners (particularly saccharin) on glucose homeostasis, published in Nature grabbed media attention worldwide.

Using an elegant series of experiments, the research showed that saccharin not only appears to negatively affect glucose metabolism in mice, but does so through its effects on gut bugs.

Potential relevance to humans was demonstrated by exposing volunteers to 120 mg of saccharin a day for 7 days and then transplanting the stool of the four (out of seven) participants, who showed decreased glucose tolerance, to germ-free mice.

In their conclusions, the authors speculate that the widespread consumption of artificial sweeteners (as a means to prevent obesity and/or diabetes) may have played a paradoxical role in promoting these very health problems.

While that may or may not be the case (given that all we have is evidence in mice and short-term finding from a handful of humans), I find these observations most interesting for one simple reason alone and that is the demonstration that chemical composition of the diet can alter gut bacteriomes, which in turn can significantly affect metabolism.

Whether or not artificial sweeteners may have significantly altered the gut bacteria of people across the world (leading to obesity in Africa, India, South America and elsewhere) may not be entirely plausible but, if indeed sweeteners can do this, there are probably much more likely culprits in our modern diets.

For one, I would begin by suspecting the rather liberal use of antibiotics both in animal husbandry as well as human infection. Next, I would wonder about the widespread use of preservatives and pesticide. Finally, I’d wonder about the very likely impact of all the other chemicals including personal hygiene products and disinfectants in our environment on our intestinal flora (does washing your hands make you obese?).

If there is one thing that I learn from this study, it is the fact that we must now take into consideration a wide range of factors that can potentially alter our susceptibility to obesity and/or diabetes by changing our gut bugs.

Incidentally, the gut bugs are not just influenced by environmental or food-borne chemicals – the very foods we eat can substantially affect our gut bugs, which have now been implicated in everything from Alzheimer’s and autism to arthritis and cancer.

While every new area of research is often accompanied by considerable hype (promoted both by the media and the researchers themselves), this will probably be an interesting space to watch.

@DrSharma
Edmonton, AB

ResearchBlogging.orgSuez J, Korem T, Zeevi D, Zilberman-Schapira G, Thaiss CA, Maza O, Israeli D, Zmora N, Gilad S, Weinberger A, Kuperman Y, Harmelin A, Kolodkin-Gal I, Shapiro H, Halpern Z, Segal E, & Elinav E (2014). Artificial sweeteners induce glucose intolerance by altering the gut microbiota. Nature PMID: 25231862

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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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