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We Desperately Need Scalable Treatments For Obesity

NN Benefits White Paper CoverObesity, defined as the presence of abnormal or excess body fat that impairs health, currently affects 100s of millions of people worldwide.

Although “weight-loss” is a booming global multi-billion dollar business, we desperately lack effective long-term treatments for this chronic disease – the vast majority of people who fall prey to the natural supplement, diet, and fitness industry will on occasion manage to lose weight – but few will keep it off.

Thus, there is little evidence that the majority (or even just a significant proportion) of people trying to lose weight with help of the “commercial weight loss industry” will experience long-term health benefits.

When it comes to evidence-based treatments, there is ample evidence that behavioural interventions can help patients achieve and sustain important health benefits, but the magnitude of sustainable weight loss is modest (3-5% of initial weight at best).

Furthermore, although one may think that “behavioural” or “lifestyle” interventions are cost-effective, this is by no means the case. Successful behaviour change requires significant intervention by trained health professionals, a limited and expensive resource to which most patients will never have access. Moreover, there is ample evidence showing maintenance of long-term behaviour change requires significant on-going resources in terms of follow-up visits – thus adding to the cost.

This severely limits the scalability of behavioural treatments for obesity.

If for example, every Canadian with obesity (around 7,000,000) met with a registered dietitian just twice a year on an ongoing basis (which is probably far less than required to sustain ongoing behaviour change), the Canadian Health Care system would need to provide 14,000,000 dietitian consultations for obesity alone.

Given that there are currently fewer than 10,000 registered dietitians in Canada, each dietitian would need to do 14,000 consultations for obesity annually (~ 70 consultations per day) or look after approximately 7,000 clients living with obesity each year. Even if some of these consultations were not done by dietitians but by less-qualified health professionals, it is easy to see how this approach is simply not scalable to the size of the problem.

A similar calculation can be easily made for clinical psychologists or exercise physiologists.

Thus, behavioural interventions for obesity, delivered by trained and licensed  healthcare professionals are simply not a scalable (or cost-effective) option.

At the other extreme, we now have considerable long-term data supporting the morbidity, mortality, and quality of life benefits of bariatric surgery. However, bariatric surgery is also not scalable to the magnitude of the problem

There are currently well over 1,500,000 Canadians living with obesity that is severe enough to warrant the costs and risks of surgery. However, at the current pace of 10,000 surgeries a year (a number that is unlikely to dramatically increase in the near future), it would take over 150 years to operate every Canadian with severe obesity alive today.

This is where we have to look at how Canada has made significant strides in managing the millions of Canadians living with other chronic diseases?

How are we managing the over 5,000,000 Canadians living with hypertension?

How are we managing the over 2.5 million Canadians living with diabetes?

How are we managing the over 1.5 million Canadians living with heart disease?

The answer to all is – with the help of prescription medications.

There are now millions of Canadians who benefit from their daily dose of blood pressure-, glucose-, and cholesterol-lowering medications. The lives saved by the use of these medications in Canada alone is in the 10s of thousands each year.

So, if millions of Canadians take medications for other chronic diseases (clearly a scalable approach), where are the medications for obesity?

Sadly, there are currently only two prescription medications available to Canadians (neither scalable, one due to cost the other due to unacceptable side effects).

So what would it take to find treatments for obesity that are scalable to the magnitude of the problem?

More on that in tomorrow’s post.

@DrSharma
Edmonton, Ab

 

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Are There Biomarkers For Physical Fitness?

sharma-obesity-african-athlete1Physical fitness is perhaps the most powerful negative predictor of cardiovascular health risk (a rather complicated way of saying “fitness” is good for you).

However, there is no easy way to measure fitness short of standardized exercise testing, both cumbersome and unpractical in a clinical setting.

Now, a paper by Joshua Denham and Priscilla Prestes, published in Frontiers in Genetics, suggests that muscle-enriched microRNAs (miRNAs) measured in whole blood may provide a sensitive blood test for physical fitness.

MiRNAs are genetically conserved, small (18–25 nucleotides), non-coding RNA molecules that post-transcriptionally control gene expression by either promoting mRNA degradation or down-regulating translation. There are over 2,500 known human mature miRNAs and each one can have hundreds of mRNA targets, making them powerful regulators of gene expression.

miRNAs are sensitive to the internal and external environments and it is therefore likely that circulating miRNAs isolated from the peripheral vasculature could serve as biomarkers of disease (and health).

In their study, the researchers examined the effect of long-term strenuous aerobic exercise training and a single bout of maximal aerobic exercise on five muscle-enriched miRNAs implicated in exercise adaptations (miR-1, miR-133a, miR-181a, miR-486, and miR-494).

They also determined linear correlations between miRNAs, resting heart rate, and maximum oxygen uptake in endurance athletes compared to non athletes.

Specific miRNAs were increased in athletes compared to non-athletes and there was a positive correlations between miRNA abundance and O2 max and resting heart rate.

Thus, the authors suggest that muscle-enriched miRNAs isolated from whole blood are regulated by acute and long-term aerobic exercise training and could serve as biomarkers of cardiorespiratory fitness.

Whether this would ever make it into a simple blood test for fitness remains to be seen.

@DrSharma
Copenhagen, DK

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If Behavioural Interventions to Induce And Sustain Weight Loss So Often Fail, Why Bother?

sharma-obesity-balanceBehavioural interventions (generally aimed at reducing caloric intake and/or increasing expenditure) are notoriously unsuccessful as a strategy for sustainable weight loss in the vast majority of people (at any weight).

For the few, who do succeed (and the word “succeed” is used here rather loosely), it takes nothing short of constant (daily) diligence and ongoing determination to make it work – any reduction in effort is immediately “punished” by weight regain – even after years of successful weight-loss maintenance.

Yet, the scientific literature abounds with study after study after study with one behavioural strategy (diets are behaviours!) after the next to try and achieve the almost impossible – sustainable weight loss.

The simple reason why behavioural measures fail is because they are up against a powerful array of neuroendocrine defences that our bodies can harness to effectively sabotage our efforts.

Any time we try to wander off into negative energy balance, our bodies instantly respond with opposing increases in appetite and reduction in energy expenditure to defend and restore energy stores.

That is simply the reality of human (=animal) physiology.

However, this does not mean that behavioural interventions in obesity management are useless.

Indeed, if behaviours are causing weight gain, then changing those behaviours is in fact the first step in addressing ongoing weight gain.

So, if drinking two litres of sugary pop a day or eating most of your food out of boxes is contributing to your weight gain, then changing your diet can stop the gain.

If sitting at your desk (or on your couch) all day is contributing to your weight gain, then increasing your activity levels can stop the gain.

The critical part of the preceding two sentences is “stop the gain”.

When you identify and address the cause of weight gain, you do not automatically get weight loss – you do, however, stop the gain.

If not having breakfast contributes to your overeating (as it may well do in some individuals), then having breakfast may help you stop the gain – it does not necessarily mean that having breakfast will get you weight loss.

Thus, while I expect to see better weight control with regular breakfasts in someone who is actively gaining weight, I do not expect to see weight loss in someone who is weight stable (even if they just eat once a day).

Similarly, if binge eating disorder is contributing to ongoing weight gain, then successful treatment of that disorder  should prevent further weight gain – it does not automatically reverse the process and lower your body weight.

Yes, there are behaviours that can make maintenance of weight loss more manageable – like regular weighing, keeping a food diary, managing hunger, mindfulness, etc. but by themselves, these behaviours will rarely result in significant sustainable weight loss in most people.

Can healthy behaviours improve health at any weight – of course they can!

Can healthy behaviours limit further weight gain – of course they can!

Can healthy behaviours result in significant sustainable weight loss – in some people perhaps?

Let us stop overselling behavioural interventions as a “treatment” for obesity, when in real-life, they are supportive at best.

That doesn’t make behavioural interventions any less valuable – patients can sure use all the support they can get.

@DrSharma
Edmonton, AB

 

 

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5th Canadian Obesity Summit – Four More Days To Submit Your Abstracts!

banff-springs-hotelEvery two years the Canadian Obesity Network holds its National Obesity Summit – the only national obesity meeting in Canada covering all aspects of obesity – from basic and population science to prevention and health promotion to clinical management and health policy.

Anyone who has been to one of the past four Summits has experienced the cross-disciplinary networking and breaking down of silos (the Network takes networking very seriously).

Of all the scientific meetings I go to around the world, none has quite the informal and personal feel of the Canadian Obesity Summit – despite all differences in interests and backgrounds, everyone who attends is part of the same community – working on different pieces of the puzzle that only makes sense when it all fits together in the end.

The 5th Canadian Obesity Summit will be held at the Banff Springs Hotel in Banff National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, located in the heart of the Canadian Rockies (which in itself should make it worth attending the summit), April 25-29, 2017.

Yesterday, the call went out for abstracts and workshops – the latter an opportunity for a wide range of special interest groups to meet and discuss their findings (the last Summit featured over 20 separate workshops – perhaps a tad too many, which is why the program committee will be far more selective this time around).

So here is what the program committee is looking for:

  • Basic science – cellular, molecular, physiological or neuronal related aspects of obesity
  • Epidemiology – epidemiological techniques/methods to address obesity related questions in populations studies
  • Prevention of obesity and health promotion interventions – research targeting different populations, settings, and intervention levels (e.g. community-based, school, workplace, health systems, and policy)
  • Weight bias and weight-based discrimination – including prevalence studies as well as interventions to reduce weight bias and weight-based discrimination; both qualitative and quantitative studies
  • Pregnancy and maternal health – studies across clinical, health services and population health themes
  • Childhood and adolescent obesity – research conducted with children and or adolescents and reports on the correlates, causes and consequences of pediatric obesity as well as interventions for treatment and prevention.
  • Obesity in adults and older adults – prevalence studies and interventions to address obesity in these populations
  • Health services and policy research – reaserch addressing issues related to obesity management services which idenitfy the most effective ways to organize, manage, finance, and deliver high quality are, reduce medical errors or improve patient safety
  • Bariatric surgery – issues that are relevant to metabolic or weight loss surgery
  • Clinical management – clinical management of overweight and obesity across the life span (infants through to older adults) including interventions for prevention and treatment of obesity and weight-related comorbidities
  • Rehabilitation –  investigations that explore opportunities for engagement in meaningful and health-building occupations for people with obesity
  • Diversity – studies that are relevant to diverse or underrepresented populations
  • eHealth/mHealth – research that incorporates social media, internet and/or mobile devices in prevention and treatment
  • Cancer – research relevant to obesity and cancer

…..and of course anything else related to obesity.

Deadline for submission is October 24, 2016

To submit an abstract or workshop – click here

For more information on the 5th Canadian Obesity Summit – click here

For sponsorship opportunities – click here

Looking forward to seeing you in Banff next year!

@DrSharma
Edmonton, AB

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Bariatric Surgery Improves Mitochondrial Efficiency

sharma-obesity-mitochondriaOne of the more frustrating aspects of weight loss, is that it is often associated with decreased metabolic rate and increased ‘fuel efficiency’.

Thus, following weight loss, not only does the body need fewer calories, doing the same amount of physical work uses fewer calories than before (the joke is that, if you ran 5K a day to lose weight, you have to run 10K a day to keep it off).

Now, a study by Maria Fernström and colleagues, published in Obesity Surgery, shows increased mitochondrial efficiency following bariatric surgery.

The researchers performed skeletal muscle biopsies in 11 women before and at 6 months after gastric bypass surgery.

Measurements in isolated mitochondria showed a marked increase in coupled respiration (state 3) and overall mitochondrial capacity (P/O ratio) with a non-significant increase in uncoupled (state 4) respiration.

Thus, at 6 months following gastric bypass surgery, both the mitochondrial capacity for coupled, i.e., ATP-generating, respiration increased as well as the P/O ratio improved.

As the authors note, not only would this increased “fuel efficiency” in part explain the decreased basal metabolism often associated with weight loss but also the propensity for weight regain that often follows weight-loss interventions.

Obviously, due to lack of a control group, this study does not demonstrate that these changes are in any way specific to weight-loss following bariatric surgery.

Also, given that the nadir of weight loss is generally not achieved until about 18 months following surgery, the changes observed in this study may not represent the maximum increase in mitochondrial efficiency to be achieved with further weight loss.

@DrSharma
Edmonton, AB

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