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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Monday, October 20, 2014

Obesity In Pet Dogs

household petsIf anyone is concerned about humans getting fatter – let us not forget our household pets.

Thus, according to a report published in the official journal of the British Veterinary Association, a survey of 1000 dogs attending as outpatients in a veterinary clinic found 28% (or 1 in 3) to be obese.

Notable, the prevalence of obesity in female dogs was higher than in males (32% vs. 28%) and higher in middle-aged than younger dogs (12% vs 21% in males and 21 vs 41% in females).

Dogs getting table scraps or other home-prepared food as the main part of their diet showed a higher incidence of obesity than those fed on canned dog meat.

Also, the incidence was higher (44%) among dogs owned by people with obesity than among dogs owned by people of normal physique (25%) and was higher (34 to 37%) among dogs of people in middle and elderly age groups than among dogs owned by people under 40 years of age (20%).

Of note, the owners of 31% of the dogs classified as obese considered their dogs to be of normal weight.

Now, for any reader, who wonders what is remarkable about any of these findings – here is the surprising little detail: this paper was published in 1971!

Indeed, it is the first paper in a series of coming posts on obesity research that was published almost 5 decades ago but could have well been published last week.

It is surprising how little has changed.

@DrSharma
Edmonton, Alberta

ResearchBlogging.orgMason E (1970). Obesity in pet dogs. The Veterinary record, 86 (21), 612-6 PMID: 5465678

 

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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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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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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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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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