Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Cultural Drivers and Context of Obesity

sharma-obesity-family-watching-tvIn my continuing review of not too recent publications on obesity, I found this one by Hortense Powdermaker, Professor of Anthropology, Queens College, Flushing, New York, published in the Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine in 1960.

The following quotes could all have been written last week:

“We eat too much. We have too much of many things. According to the population experts, there are too many people in the world, due to the decline in mortality rates. A key theme in this age of plenty-people, food, things-is consumption. We are urged to buy more and more things and new things: food, cars, refrigerators, television sets, clothes, etcetera. We are constantly advised that prosperity can be maintained only by ever-increasing consumption.”

“…physical activity is almost non-existent in most occupations, particularly those in the middle and upper classes. We think of the everincreasing white-collar jobs, the managerial and professional groups, and even the unskilled and skilled laborers in machine and factory production. For some people there are active games in leisure time, probably more for males than females. But, in general, leisure time activities tend to become increasingly passive. We travel in automobiles, we sit in movies, we stay at home and watch television. Most people live too far away to walk to their place of work.”

“The slender, youthful-looking figure is now desired by women of all ages. The term “matronly”, with its connotation of plumpness,
is decidedly not flattering. Although the female body is predisposed to proportionately more fat and the male to more muscle, the
plump or stout woman’s body is considered neither beautiful nor sexually attractive.”

“The desire for health, for longevity, for youthfulness, for sexual attractiveness is indeed a powerful motivation. Yet obesity is a problem. We ask, then, what cultural and psychological factors might be counteracting the effective work of nutritionists, physicians, beauty specialists, and advertisements in the mass media?”

“Although there are probably relatively few people today who know sustained hunger because of poverty, poor people eat differently from rich people. Fattening, starchy foods are common among the former, and in certain ethnic groups, particularly those from southern Europe, women tend to be fat. Obesity for women is therefore somewhat symbolic for lower class. In our socially mobile society this is a powerful deterrent. The symbolism of obesity in men has been different. The image of a successful middle-aged man in the middle and upper classes has been with a “pouch”, or “bay-window”, as it was called a generation ago.”

The paper goes on to discuss some (rather stereotypic) notions about why some people overeat and others don’t – an interesting read but nothing we haven’t heard before.

Nevertheless, given that this paper was written over 50 years ago – one wonders how much more we’ve actually learnt about the cultural aspects of this issue – it seems that we are still discussing the same problem as our colleagues were half a century ago.

Perhaps it really is time for some new ideas.

@DrSharma
Edmonton, AB
ResearchBlogging.orgPOWDERMAKER H (1960). An anthropological approach to the problem of obesity. Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine, 36, 286-95 PMID: 14434548

 

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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, September 19, 2014

Does Mandatory Weight Loss Before Surgery Harm Patients?

weight scale helpMany surgical clinics require “mandatory” weight loss before approving patients for surgery, a requirement for which there is very little evidence that it influences post-surgical outcomes (despite the rather firm belief of many that it does).

While one may perhaps accept the need for pre-surgical weight loss when the primary objective is to make the surgery easier for the surgeon and safer for the patient, of greater concern is the practice in many centres that require “mandatory” weight loss based on the notion that patients need to demonstrate their “suitability” for surgery by achieving an arbitrary amount of weight loss in order to “qualify” and prove themselves “fit” for surgery.

That this latter requirement is not without actual risk for the patient and can lead to significant frustration and disruption of the patient-provider relationship is described in a phenomological study by Nicole Glenn and colleagues, published in Qualitative Health Research.

The study is based on in-depth interviews with seven candidates considering bariatric surgery and describes their lived experience and views about what the requirement to lose weight in oder to obtain surgery meant for them.

The article begins with a touching account of one patient:

“The surgeon says, “We need you to get your weight down a little more before we can approve you for surgery.” I fight back the tears as I drive home. Then I think, “I have to do this. I need this surgery.” I work my ass off; I eat nothing but salad for three weeks while I prepare real food for the rest of my family. I go to the gym late at night and settle for five hours sleep because there is no other time in my day with two small children to care for and a husband who works long hours. I struggle, but I’ll do whatever I have to. I come back for my next visit with the surgeon, and I’ve lost more than he had asked me to, yet he doesn’t even notice. He doesn’t comment on my weight at all! He says, “You’ll hear from my office with a surgical date.” That’s it?”

The paper focusses on four themes that emerge from the narratives.

1. Nod your head and carry on:

“[I know a few people who’ve had the surgery, and they all tell me that same thing—just do what you are told! I ran into a friend who had the surgery and was telling him about my frustrations. He said, “If the clinic staff want you to lose five pounds then you need to get the five pounds off and don’t put your personal opinion in there. Just nod your head and carry on.”]“

This behaviour, while understandable, can have unintended consequences for the patient-client relationship:

“To become perfect, to appear to be the ideal patient, a person might find it necessary to act the part. Is it possible to show who one really is when it is the ideal patient who needs to be seen? A person who waits to have bariatric surgery, who feels the need to prove him- or herself to access the surgery, might also find it necessary to hide or become secretive, to leave things out of the food journal or the stories told.”

“Imagine if one awaiting a hip replacement, for example, was first obligated to walk without pain? Why then would one be required to lose weight before weight loss surgery—to do the very thing the surgery provides? To get help, a person must reveal her struggle to the nurse, to name it, and in so doing to show herself as a failure. Such a person finds that she has no other choice. Alone, she cannot lose the weight, and without weight loss, the surgery will not happen. Nevertheless, in revealing this struggle, she risks losing the very thing she hopes to gain.”

2. Waiting and Weighing: Promoting Weight Consciousness to the Weight Conscious:

This section deals with the negative impact that this practice has by reinforcing focus and obsession with numbers on the scale when the real focus should be on health behaviours.

3. Paying For Surgical Approval Through Weight Loss:

“[I feel as if the surgery is being held for ransom, and if I don’t behave perfectly, I won’t get a chance. I mean, I see them obsessing over my charts and journal. No one even tries talking to me. The nurse and psychologist tell me, “No black or white thinking,” but here they are practicing exactly that!]“

“The irony of the perfect behavior required to lose weight and ultimately access weight-loss surgery amid suggestions to reject black and white thinking is not lost on the woman who waits. She should resist the urge to see the world as all or nothing, either this or that, and instead accept the complexities of the grey that exists in the world between black and white, yet she knows that she either loses weight or she loses surgery. It is black or white.”

4. Presurgical Weight Loss and Questioning the Need for Weight-Loss Surgery Altogether:

This section addresses the issue that patients, who do manage to lose substantial weight before surgery, may be faced with having to reconsider the need for surgery altogether thereby increasing internal conflict and enhancing uncertainty as to whether they have made the right decision to have surgery in the first place.

This is clearly a paper that all practitioners in bariatric clinics should read and be aware of.

As the authors point out, given the lack of good evidence that presurgical weight loss has any relevant impact on surgical or post-surgical outcomes, it may be high time to reconsider this potentially harmful practice.

@DrSharma
Edmonton, AB

ResearchBlogging.orgGlenn NM, Raine KD, & Spence JC (2014). Mandatory Weight Loss During the Wait For Bariatric Surgery. Qualitative health research PMID: 25185162

 

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Monday, September 1, 2014

Guest Post: Emotional Distress And Weight Gain

Erik Hemmiingsson, PhD, Obesity Research Centre, Karolinska Institute, Stockholm, Sweden

Erik Hemmiingsson, PhD, Obesity Research Centre, Karolinska Institute, Stockholm, Sweden

Today’s guest post comes from Erik Hemmingsson, PhD,  a Group Leader at the Obesity Center, Department of Medicine, Karolinska Institute, Stockholm, Sweden. His group studies the role of psychological and emotional distress in weight gain and obesity by mapping life events that influence stress, metabolism and body weight. Erik has a PhD in Exercise and Health Sciences from the University of Bristol (2004) and a PhD in Medicine from Karolinska Institutet.

I work as a researcher in a specialized obesity treatment center at a university hospital in Sweden. My job is to develop new and more effective treatment and prevention methods so that we can hopefully confine obesity to the history books some day.

For many years I mostly did studies on behaviour therapy combined with low energy diets. Since this did not result in any major breakthroughs, I decided to try something a little different.

I had been aware of that many of our patients had experienced difficult childhoods. There were so many sad stories, but I didn’t fancy doing any research on the topic, it was too painful. But then my attitude gradually started to change about a year ago. It was clear that our current treatment methods were woefully ineffective, but I also became more receptive to all those troublesome stories from the patients. Enough was enough, it was time act. So, like Neo in the Matrix movies, I decided to take the red pill, and delve deeper into the very uncomfortable subject of childhood abuse and adult obesity.

I searched the literature and quickly saw that there were more than enough studies for a systematic review and meta-analysis. I enlisted the help of Dr Kari Johansson and Dr Signy Reynisdottir, and got to work.

What we found very much confirmed all those clinical observations, i.e. there was a very robust association between childhood abuse and adult obesity. The association was also very consistent across difference types of abuse, with an increased risk of about 30-40%. There was also a dose-response association, i.e. the more abuse, the greater the risk of obesity.

While this study confirmed something very important, it was also clear that not everyone who suffers childhood abuse develops obesity, or that all obese individuals have suffered childhood abuse, or the effects would have been even more pronounced. But for me, the study proved that stressful childhood experiences can easily manifest as obesity many years later. This led me even deeper down the rabbit hole. I wanted to know why.

I decided to try and piece together different ideas about how obesity develops in relation to stressful life events. This resulted in a new conceptual causal model consisting of six different developmental stages. Like many diseases, obesity development is more likely when there is socioeconomic disadvantage (applies mainly to Europe and North America). Socioeconomic disadvantage can very easily trigger a chain of events that include adult distress, a disharmonious family environment, offspring distress, psychological and emotional overload, and finally disruption of homeostasis through such mechanisms as maladaptive coping responses, stress, mental health problems, reduced metabolism, appetite up-regulation and inflammation.

Much more research is needed to validate the model, but if there is some truth to this theory, which the childhood abuse meta-analysis clearly suggests that there is, then my hope is that we can use this information to develop more effective treatment and prevention methods.

My other hope is that some of the truly horrendous stigma, shame and discrimination that the obese experience can gradually be alleviated, since there is clearly a lot more to obesity etiology than the commonly held preconception that obese individuals are merely lazy and overindulgent.

After having done all this work on obesity etiology, I would say that my top-3 reasons we have an obesity epidemic (in no particular order) are socioeconomic inequality, the junk food invasion, and psychological and emotional distress patterns (usually established at an early age). And when you combine all three you have the perfect storm for weight gain.

You can find more information at my blog at www.holisticobesity.com

Erik Hemmingsson,
Stockholm, Sweden

References:

Hemmingsson E, Johansson K, Reynisdottir S. Effects of childhood abuse on adult obesity: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Obesity Reviews (epub 15 August 2014).

Hemmingsson E. A new model of the role of psychological and emotional distress in promoting obesity: conceptual review with implications for treatment and prevention. Obesity Reviews 2014, 15:769-779.

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Thursday, August 28, 2014

Call For Abstracts: Canadian Obesity Summit, Toronto, April 28-May 2, 2015

COS2015 toronto callBuilding on the resounding success of Kananaskis, Montreal and Vancouver, the biennial Canadian Obesity Summit is now setting its sights on Toronto.

If you have a professional interest in obesity, it’s your #1 destination for learning, sharing and networking with experts from across Canada around the world.

In 2015, the Canadian Obesity Network (CON-RCO) and the Canadian Association of Bariatric Physicians and Surgeons (CABPS) are combining resources to hold their scientific meetings under one roof.

The 4th Canadian Obesity Summit (#COS2015) will provide the latest information on obesity research, prevention and management to scientists, health care practitioners, policy makers, partner organizations and industry stakeholders working to reduce the social, mental and physical burden of obesity on Canadians.

The COS 2015 program will include plenary presentations, original scientific oral and poster presentations, interactive workshops and a large exhibit hall. Most importantly, COS 2015 will provide ample opportunity for networking and knowledge exchange for anyone with a professional interest in this field.

Abstract submission is now open – click here

Key Dates

  • Abstract submission deadline: October 23, 2014
  • Notification of abstract review: January 8, 2014
  • Early registration deadline: March 5, 2015

For exhibitor and sponsorship information – click here

To join the Canadian Obesity Network – click here

I look forward to seeing you in Toronto next year!

@DrSharma
Montreal, QC

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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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