Wednesday, July 23, 2014

In Memorium: Albert (Mickey) J Stunkard

Stunkard twinsAs I spend my days at the 9th Canadian Obesity Network’s Summer Bootcamp for young trainees from Canada and around the world, I was saddened to learn of the passing of Mickey Stunkard, clearly one of the biggest names in obesity research – at a healthy age of 92.

With well over 500 publications to his name, Mickey is perhaps best known for his twin studies showing that the body weight of adopted identical twins reared apart resembles each other and that of their biological parents rather than the weight of their adoptive parents.

This work helped establish the basis for much of the genetic work on obesity that followed, clearly showing that differences in body weight between two individuals are much more accounted for by their difference in genetics than by differences in their “lifestyles”.

These findings were often misused in “nature vs. nurture” debates, an issue that serious scientists have long laid to rest in light of our current understanding that the two cannot be discussed separately, simply because genes and lifestyle interact on virtually every level – from molecules, to cells, to behaviours.

Here is what one obituary had to say about Mickey:

“He surveyed obesity treatment studies in the late ’50s and found that the nation’s diet programs could claim only a 2 percent success rate. He was an early advocate for the use of bariatric surgery to induce weight loss. He also published the first modern account of binge eating in obese individuals.”

I have had to pleasure to often hear him speak at conferences.

He will be dearly remembered.

@DrSharma
Kananaskis, AB

 

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Thursday, July 17, 2014

Infant Antibiotic Exposure and Obesity Risk

sharma-obesity-gut-buts1With all the interest in the role of the gut bacteriome in the development of obesity, it was only a matter of time before someone examined the relationship between antibiotic use and obesity risk.

This is exactly what Anita Kozyrskyj and colleagues from the University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada, explored in a paper now published in the International Journal of Obesity.

For their study they linked rovincial healthcare records to clinical and survey data from a Canadian longitudinal birth cohort study, whereby antibiotic exposure during the first year of life was documented from prescription records.

Overweight and central adiposity were determined from anthropometric measurements at ages 9 (n=616) and 12 (n=431) years.

According to this analysis, infants receiving antibiotics in the first year of life were about twice as likely to be overweight later in childhood compared to those who were unexposed.

However, after adjustment for birth weight, breastfeeding, maternal overweight and other potential confounders, this association persisted in boys but not in girls. The reason for this discrepancy is not clear.

Although these findings are in line with the notion that early use of antibiotics may predispose to obesity, it is important to not that these type of studies cannot prove causality.

It may well be that other non-measured factors could explain this association (e.g. overprotective or lower SES parents may be more likely to use antibiotics in their infants – both factors are independently associated with higher rates of obesity).

Nevertheless, given the rather high rates of antibiotic exposure in infants it appears that this may well be a promising area for further research not just in the context of obesity but also for many of the other conditions that are now believed to be influenced by intestinal flora.

@DrSharma
Edmonton, AB

ResearchBlogging.orgAzad MB, Bridgman SL, Becker AB, & Kozyrskyj AL (2014). Infant antibiotic exposure and the development of childhood overweight and central adiposity. International journal of obesity (2005) PMID: 25012772

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Friday, June 27, 2014

Canadians Embark on Landmark Study on Managing Childhood Obesity

sharma-obesity-kids-scale2In line with  global trends, there is considerable concern in Canada on the rising prevalence of childhood obesity.

While much work continues to focus on preventing childhood obesity, far less is known about managing it.

Now, a virtual who-is-who of pediatric obesity researchers and clinicians from across Canada have embarked on a creating the CANadian Pediatric Weight Management Registry (CANPWR), the protocol of which appears in BMC Pediatrics.

CANPWR has three primary aims:

1. To document changes in anthropometric, lifestyle, behavioural, and obesity-related co-morbidities in children enrolled in Canadian pediatric weight management programs over a three-year period;

2. To characterize the individual-, family-, and program-level determinants of change in anthropometric and obesity-related co-morbidities;

3. To examine the individual-, family-, and program-level determinants of program attrition.

This prospective cohort, multi-centre study will include 1,600 children (2 – 17 years old with a BMI >=85th percentile) enrolled in eight Canadian pediatric weight management centres.

Data collection will occur at presentation and 6-, 12-, 24-, and 36-months follow-up.

Although the primary study outcomes are BMI z-score and change in BMI z-score over time a number of secondary outcomes including other anthropometric (e.g., height, waist circumference,), cardiometabolic (e.g., blood pressure, lipid profile, glycemia), lifestyle (e.g., dietary intake, physical activity, sedentary activity), and psychosocial (e.g., health-related quality of life) variables will also be assessed.

The researchers will also examine potential determinants of change and program attrition including individual-, family-, and program-level variables.

I am certain that the findings will be of considerable interest not just in terms of helping us better understand exactly how childhood obesity is being effectively managed in Canada (or not) but also provide important insights for planning future obesity management services for kids with overweight and obesity.

@DrSharma
Vancouver, BC

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Wednesday, June 18, 2014

4th Canadian Obesity student Meeting (COSM 2014)

Uwaterloo_sealOver the next three days, I will be in Waterloo, Ontario, attending the 4th biennial Canadian Obesity Student Meeting (COSM 2014), a rather unique capacity building event organised by the Canadian Obesity Network’s Students and New Professionals (CON-SNP).

CON-SNP consist of an extensive network within CON, comprising of over 1000 trainees organised in about 30 chapters at universities and colleges across Canada.

Students and trainees in this network come from a wide range of backgrounds and span faculties and research interests as diverse as molecular genetics and public health, kinesiology and bariatric surgery, education and marketing, or energy metabolism and ingestive behaviour.

Over the past eight years, since the 1st COSM was hosted by laval university in Quebec, these meetings have been attended by over 600 students, most presenting their original research work, often for the first time to an audience of peers.

Indeed, it is the peer-led nature of this meeting that makes it so unique. COSM is entirely organised by CON-SNP – the students select the site, book the venues, review the abstracts, design the program, chair the sessions, and lead the discussions.

Although a few senior faculty are invited, they are largely observers, at best participating in discussions and giving the odd plenary lecture. But 85% of the program is delivered by the trainees themselves.

Apart from the sheer pleasure of sharing in the excitement of the participants, it has been particularly rewarding to follow the careers of many of the trainees who attended the first COSMs – many now themselves hold faculty positions and have trainees of their own.

As my readers are well aware, I regularly attend professional meetings around the world – none match the excitement and intensity of COSM.

I look forward to another succesful meeting as we continue to build the next generation of Canadian obesity researchers, health professionals and policy makers.

You can follow live tweets from this meeting at #COSM2014

@DrSharma
Waterloo, Ontario

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Monday, June 2, 2014

There Has Not Been A Single Success Story in National Obesity Prevention in The Past 33 Years

sharma-obesity_global_obesity_mapJust back from the 21st European Congress on Obesity, I missed out on 100s of media interviews I could have done last week as the media were abuzz with the latest obesity statistics from around the world.

In what will clearly be considered a “landmark” paper by ~150 authors published in The Lancet, we now have the latest summary of global, regional and national data on obesity.

Based on the analyses of almost 1800 surveys, reports, and published studies, the worldwide prevalence of adults with a body-mass index (BMI) of 25 kg/m2 or greater increased between 1980 and 2013 from 29 6o 37% in men and from 30 to 38% in women.

In 2013, 23% of children and adolescents in developed countries were overweight or obese while the same is true for about ~12% of kids in developing countries.

Together, this leave about 2.1 billion of the world populations as currently overweight or obese with numbers growing in virtually every region of the world (albeit with a bit of a slow down in developed countries).

Thus, the authors conclude that,

Not only is obesity increasing, but no national success stories have been reported in the past 33 years.

Obviously, there are many reasons why we lack success stories.

No doubt, one could point to governments that have not tried hard enough, or the food and leisure industry that sustains its overwhelming influence on consumer “choices”, or the continuing “westernization” of global lifestyles.

No doubt, many policies have been tried (e.g. fat taxes, menu labelling, school food programs, fitness taxes, BMI report cards as well as more drastic “shame and blame” tactics) but conclusive evidence that any such measures are working to reverse the tide remains elusive.

It may well be that the flattening of obesity (but not severe obesity) rates in developed countries may have more to do with the “natural” history of this epidemic, than with any public health measures.

On the other hand, perhaps the reason so little progress has been made in preventing obesity is that we are not going after the right targets, namely to change the actual life experiences of overworked, sleep deprived, stress-out families living in a culture of “grabbing a bite” and “working lunches” at one end and the millions living with poor education and food insecurity at the other. No amount of fiddling with menu labelling is about to change that.

What is sad in all of this is the simple fact that virtually no government has yet developed a comprehensive plan on how to improve access to obesity treatments for its populations. Rather, overweight and obese people the world over continue to be denied medical care for this disease on the simple basis that it is their own “fault”.

So while the world awaits the wonder of “prevention” to hopefully one day work its magic, millions of people around the world continue struggling on their own with no help in sight.

Let me guess what will happen as a result of these new numbers – not much!

@DrSharma
Edmonton, Alberta

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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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