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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Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Can Education Offset The Genetic Risk For Obesity?

sharma-obesity-dna_molecule9Obesity is a highly heritable condition with considerable penetrance, especially in our obesogenic enviroment.

However, as I have pointed out before, having a genetic predisposition for obesity (like having a genetic predisposition for other diseases such as diabetes or high blood pressure) does not mean your fate is chiseled in stone. Lifestyle changes can significantly reduce the risk, but those with a stronger genetic predisposition will have to work a lot harder at not gaining weight than those who are naturally slender.

That said, a new study by Liu and colleagues from Harvard University, published in Social Science & Medicine, shows that better education may offset a substantial proportion of the genetic risk for obesity and/or diabetes.

The researchers created genetic risk scores for obesity and diabetes based on single nucleotide polymorphism (SNPs) confirmed as genome-wide significant predictors for BMI (29 SNPs) and diabetes risk (39 SNPs) in over 8000 participants in the Health and Retirement Study.

Linear regression models with years of schooling indicate that the effect of genetic risk on both HbA1c and BMI was smaller among people with more years of schooling and larger among those with less than a high school (HS) degree compared to HS degree-holders.

As one may expect, estimates from the quantile regression models consistently indicated stronger associations for years of schooling and genetic risk scores at the higher end of the outcome distribution, where individuals are at actual risk for diabetes and obesity.

In other words, the greater the genetic risk for diabetes or obesity, the greater the positive impact of finishing high-school or college.

In contrast, having less than a high-school education augmented the genetic risk for these conditions.

From these findings the authors conclude that,

“Our findings provide some support for the social trigger model, which speculates that the social environment can attenuate or exacerbate inherent genetic risks. Furthermore, it suggests social stratification may shape how genetic vulnerability is expressed. Social hierarchies based on socioeconomic status determine the health status of individuals. According to fundamental cause theory, policies and interventions must address social factors directly to have a population-level impact on disease risk . Our results show how education, a fundamental cause of health and disease, can serve as a valuable resource that offsets even innate biological risk. Education increases an individual’s ability to adapt, modify, and use surrounding resources. As such, polices that reduce disparities in education may help offset underlying genetic risk.”

This study strongly supports my view that one cannot (and should not) ignore genetic risk when studying the effect of environmental or behavioural factors in populations or individuals. Indeed, the greatest benefit of these interventions clearly appear to be found in those with the highest genetic risk.

@DrSharma
Ottawa, ON

ResearchBlogging.orgLiu SY, Walter S, Marden J, Rehkopf DH, Kubzansky LD, Nguyen T, & Glymour MM (2014). Genetic vulnerability to diabetes and obesity: Does education offset the risk? Social science & medicine (1982) PMID: 25245452

 

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Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The Freshmen 15 Are Neither 15 Nor Limited to Freshmen

sharma-obesity-black-studentsAccording to popular belief, the first year of college can be associated with a 15 pound weight gain – often referred to as “the freshman 15″.

Now, a study by Micheal Fedewa and colleagues from the University of Georgia, look at the weight trajectory in college studies in a paper published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

Their systematic review and meta-analysis includes 49 studies evaluating the effect of the first year of college (and beyond) on the dependent body weight and or %body fat.

While the researchers found a statistically significant change in body weight among students, the average weight gain was a rather modest 1.6 kg during a typical 4-year college career. Interestingly, this finding is similar to previous estimates suggesting average increases ranging from 1.1. to 2.1 kg in the first year of college.

Thus, the actual average weight gain comes nowhere close to the notorious “15″.

Also, the authors found that most of the weight gain is progressive and continues throughout college – there is little evidence that most of the weight gained (if any) happens in the first year.

Thus, despite individual anecdotal experiences of weight gain, that may sometimes approach or even exceed 15 lbs, there is little scientific basis or reason for concern about the freshman 15.

Or, as the authors put it,

These results suggest that the “Freshman 15” may not pose a significant risk to students’ health, but unhealthy behaviors throughout college may lead to unfavorable changes in body weight, as weight change does not appear to stabilize as previously reported.

Perhaps it is time to put this idea to rest and move on to study issues that may be more important than this.

@DrSharma
Guelph, ON

ResearchBlogging.orgFedewa MV, Das BM, Evans EM, & Dishman RK (2014). Change in Weight and Adiposity in College Students: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. American journal of preventive medicine PMID: 25241201

 

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Monday, October 6, 2014

Obesity Tip Sheet For Occupational Therapists

OT obesity tip sheet AHS Oct 2014

October is Occupational Therapist Month, an event celebrated by the Canadian Association of Occupational Therapists in a nation-wide campaign involving billboards and bumper stickers.

Reason enough to turn my readers attention to a “tip sheet” developed by members of the Alberta Health Services’ Bariatric Resource Team that explains when to refer their patients with obesity to an occupational therapist.

The preamble to this sheet notes that,

“Occupational therapists promote health and well being for people with obesity by facilitating engagement in occupations of everyday life, including addressing occupational performance issues in the areas of self-care, productivity and leisure. This can impact quality of life, including how people with obesity participate in their daily lives and in health and weight management activities.”

Occupational therapy referral may be indicated for a person with obesity presenting with challenges ranging from occupational engagement to completing simple activities of daily living.

To download this OT referral tip sheet click here.

Happy OT month!

@DrSharma
Hamilton, ON

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Friday, October 3, 2014

Obesity 5As At The Armed Forces

sharma-obesity-canadian-forcesThis morning I am presenting a workshop on the Canadian Obesity Network’s 5As of Obesity Management to members of the Canadian Armed Forces here in Ottawa.

As I discussed in a previous post, members of the Armed Forces are not immune to weight-gain – if anything, the considerable stressors encountered by military personnel make them perhaps even more prone to weight gain than civilians.

And, as for civilians, there are no easy solutions. Once the weight is on, military personnel face the same challenges in losing weight and keeping it off (if indeed their excess weight is affecting their health) as everybody else.

I look forward to an exciting discussion with the medical personnel on base about how best to apply the 5As of Obesity Management in their practice.

@DrSharma
Ottawa, 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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