Friday, October 31, 2014

German TV Looks At Healthy Obesity

Arya Sharma on bike 3SATRegular readers will be familiar with the fact that not all people with excess weight necessarily have health problems. Now, the 3SAT television channel, which broadcasts in Germany, Austria and Switzerland has produced a 45 minute documentary on the science behind these findings.

Although the film is in German, I thought I would post the link anyway as many of my readers may well be able to grasp the story even if they are not entirely fluent.

To watch the documentary on line click here.

Incidentally, I am featured about 2.5 minutes into the film, discussing the Edmonton Obesity Staging System and related issues.

Appreciate all comments.

@DrSharma
Toronto, ON

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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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Thursday, October 23, 2014

Guest Post: My Weight Is Not Measured In Pounds

Fitness Header ColorToday’s guest post comes from Andrea Matthes, a Certified Personal Trainer and blogger, who I met at the annual meeting of the Obesity Action Coalition in Orlando – the post speaks for itself.

I recently attended the Obesity Action Coalition’s annual Your Weight Matters Convention and got the opportunity to hear Dr. Sharma’s keynote presentation titled, “Health is Not Measured in Pounds.” I found myself sitting in my chair, agreeing so emphatically that I was full-body nodding at the waist. By the end of his speech, I couldn’t contain myself– I jumped out of my chair making the first, very loud clap that echoed through the room, only to be followed by hundreds of other claps and a full-house standing ovation. Dr. Sharma’s message was something I needed to hear. Not because it was a new theory to me, but because up until that hour, his theory was what I was experiencing first-hand.

I am 5 feet, one inch tall and weigh 165lbs (when slightly dehydrated). At my current height/weight my BMI is 31.2, also known as: OBESE. A word that is often associated with laziness, overeating, diabetes, high blood pressure, bad cholesterol and overall ill health. According to this number, I need to lose at least 35lbs if I want to reach the “normal” range in order to be considered “healthy”.

Can I just tell you how frustrating that is?

I am living an exceptionally healthy, full and active lifestyle. My blood pressure is perfect, my cholesterol levels are great, and my A1C is consistently normal. My daily life consists of running, jumping, lifting heavy objects, and eating a diet that most people would consider ideal. I am extremely proud of the lifestyle I live. I am able to climb mountains, run races, surf, ski, and flip a perfectly executed cartwheel at the drop of a hat. Yet, I am told that in order to be healthy, I need to lose weight!

How ridiculous is that?

It’s extremely ridiculous and unfair that I have to live with a label that is based on a fancy formula for size; a label that says I need to lose weight in order to avoid potential misdiagnoses, higher insurance premiums, and social stigma. It’s unfair that my TRUE health has very little to do with pounds and everything to do with how I live my life. This is what my obesity looks like:

I am a running, swimming, cycling, heavy-lifting, nutrient-eating, LIFE-LOVING, 5-foot-one-inch-tall, 37-year-old woman who also weighs 165lbs which leaves me with a label that misrepresents the life I live and my health!

I may be obese according to BMI but that does not mean I am unhealthy.

My obese body is strong, it is capable, it is HEALTHY. In fact, my obese body is healthy enough to do things that many skinny people can’t do. So weigh me all you want, but please, do not measure my HEALTH in pounds.

ABOUT ANDREA

Andrea has lost 164 pounds with a jumpstart from gastric bypass surgery followed by a complete lifestyle overhaul. She is now a Certified Personal Trainer, Level One CrossFit Coach and has completed over 25 races since March of 2013. Andrea blogs about her REAL FOOD, REAL FITNESS, REAL LIFE approach at www.imperfectlife.net where she strives to inspire others to let go of perfection and learn to love their one and only I’mperfect Life.

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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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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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