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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Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Who Likes Fat Jokes?

sharma-obesity-not-funnyAs I prepare for my upcoming comedy show, “Weighty Confessions of an Obesity Guru” at the 33rd Edmonton International Fringe Theatre Festival, I am swamped with media interest in the notion of someone doing comedy on obesity.

Obviously, anyone who knows me or has been to one of my shows knows that I do not make “fat jokes” – or jokes about fat people.

This may be surprising to many in the comedy industry, as there is no shortage of comedians who think fat jokes are funny – and they apparently have the audiences that agree.

So, one may ask, who are these people who laugh at fat jokes?

This question was recently studied by Jacob Burmeister and Robert Carels in an article published in Psychology of Popular Media Culture.

The researchers examined the responses of 500 individuals who viewed 7 video clips from popular film and TV programs featuring weight-related humor.

Participants were asked to rate each clip on a number of dimensions including funniness and offensiveness.

They also completed measures of attitudes and beliefs toward obesity including dislike for obese persons, belief in the controllability of body weight, and a belief in stereotypes about obese persons.

As the researchers (and most of us would have predicted), the greater the participants’ dislike for obese persons and their belief in disparaging stereotypes about obesity, the funnier they thought the jokes were.

Similarly, the more the participants believed in disparaging stereotypes about obesity and that obesity is controllable, the less likely they were to consider weight-related humor distasteful.

While none of this is surprising, these finding do align nicely with disparagement humor theory.

Thus, the widespread use of weight-related humor is nothing else than a direct reflection of the widespread misconceptions and stereotypic beliefs about obesity that feed weight bias and discrimination.

These are exactly the issues that I aim to address in my show – perhaps it is now time to laugh about people who laugh at fat jokes.

@DrSharma
Edmonton, AB

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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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Thursday, June 19, 2014

Fat Activism in Canada

Dr. Jenny Ellison, Trent University, Peterborough, Ontario, Canada

Dr. Jenny Ellison, Trent University, Peterborough, Ontario, Canada

Yesterday’s opening plenary talk at the 4th Canadian Obesity Student Meeting, hosted by the Canadian Obesity Network’s Students and New Professionals (CON-SNP) network, was given by Dr. Jenny Ellison from the  Frost Centre for Canadian & Indigenous Studies at Trent University, on the history of fat activism in Canada.

In her talk, Ellison, presented a broad historical overview of how fat stigma and messaging around fat has evolved over the years.

From the early “Christian” view of obesity as a deadly sin, moral failing and lack of will power and the beginning of the obsession with body shape and size in the early half of the 20th century to the growing movement of fat acceptance and understanding of the negative consequences of fat stigma and fat politics for larger people.

She concluded with an overview of how informal networks within the fat activist movement are self-organising online sharing a wide range of information from finding physicians to identifying safe spaces where they can interact.

Ellison also complimented the Canadian Obesity Network on taking a strong stance against weight stigma and discrimination, thus opening up the possibility for a different future.

A recent paper by Ellison on this subject is available here.

@DrSharma
Waterloo, ON

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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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