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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!

Edmonton, AB


My Critical Review Of Critical Fat Studies: Obesity In Canada

obesity-in-canada-coverA few weeks ago, I was invited by the Editor of The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology to review Obesity in Canada, a collection of articles by Canadian and Australian authors, who identify themselves as “fat scholars” engaging in “critical fat studies”. (Edited by Jenny Ellison, Deborah McPhail, and Wendy Mitchinson).

Obviously, I have had multiple interactions with “fat scholars” over the years and have certainly always learnt a lot.

Indeed, I would be the first to admit that many of my own ideas about obesity, including the issue of whether or not obesity is a disease and, if so, how to define the clinical problem of obesity in a manner that does not automatically label a quarter of the population as “diseased”, has been shaped by this discourse.

Similarly, my own notions about obesity management, with a primary goal to improve health and well-being rather than simply moving numbers on the scale, are clearly influenced by ideas that first emerged from the “fat acceptance camp” (not exactly the same, but close enough).

Thus, there was certainly much in this compendium that I was already quite familiar with – which certainly made the reading of this 500 page volume most enjoyable.

Nevertheless, it is important to realise that “fat scholars” do not just see themselves as “scientists” – rather, they see the practice of “fat studies” as a political work, tightly (some might say dogmatically) bound to a frame of reference that is reminiscent of political “activism” rather than “science”.

Fat scholars (at least the ones represented in this volume) are not just critical of, but also appear most happy to discard the entire biomedical and population health discourse around obesity, as nothing more than (I paraphrase), “a thinly-veiled conspiracy by the biomedical establishment to create a moral panic that justifies the reassertion of normative identities pertaining to gender, race, class, and sexuality.

Accordingly, some fat scholars appear to be of the rather strong opinion that there is in fact no “global obesity epidemic” and even if there are perhaps a few more fat people around today than ever before, the health consequences of obesity are vastly overblown, and any recommendations or attempts to lose weight are not only ineffective but actually harmful.

Now, before you simply roll your eyes and decide to file away the whole exercise in the drawer that you reserve for global-warming deniers and anti-vaxxers, let me assure you that there is indeed a lot to be learnt from the discourse (at least I did).

For one, there are absolutely fascinating chapters on the history of fat activism in Canada (which apparently dates back to the early 70s), enlightening perspectives on Indigenous People’s encounters with obesity, the issue of “mother blaming”, and even a chapter on fat authenticity and the pursuit of hetero-romantic love in Vancouver.

There are stories about how kids and families experience childhood obesity intervention programs and how primary school teachers themselves struggle with being thrust into a role of being role models while struggling with their own personal response to the pervasive obesity messages.

Obviously, there are some ideas that may be harder to swallow than others.

Take for e.g, the notion that the “root cause” of fat phobia (at least according to fat scholars who rely on postmodern feminism, psychoanalysis, and queer theories), is simply a reflection of the femininity ascribed to body fat: because women need fat to menstruate, body fat can be seen as female reproductive material that, in patriarchy, must be contained, restrained, and ultimately eliminated.

Personally, I can no doubt think of a wide range of other “root causes” that would result in “fat phobia” and “weight stigma” without having to quite delve into feminism or queer theories – but that’s another story.

Or the notion that there is in fact no link between body fat and diabetes – something that is easily refuted by a host of experimental animal studies and clinical observations  (which, in the world of “fat scholars” do not appear to exist or are for some opaque reason deemed entirely irrelevant for the discourse).

Nevertheless, these “peculiarities” aside, I do admit that I found the book a very timely, relevant and enlightening read for anyone who is seriously interested in the issue of obesity and bold enough to step out beyond the typical biomedical discourse.

I would most certainly recommend this volume to people working in health policy and public health but also to clinicians, who seek to better understand some of the social aspects of the obesity discourse as it relates to their patients.

There is much in the volume that I perhaps disagree with or rather, see from a different perspective (I am after all a clinician) – however, openness to entertaining alternative views and ideas, and willingness to shift your own opinion and beliefs when new evidence emerges, is the defining characteristic of good scholarship – and I certainly remain a lifelong student.

Edmonton, AB

Disclaimer: I was given a complimentary copy of Obesity in Canada to review by the Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology


Why I Am Luke Warm On World Obesity Day

world-obesity-day-2016Yesterday, was the 2016 World Obesity Day championed by the World Obesity Federation.

No doubt, obesity is a serious global issue, affecting millions of people worldwide.

However, the focus of World Obesity Day appeared to be almost entirely on childhood obesity – particularly on its prevention through policy measures.

While that is not an unreasonable goal (no doubt food advertising to kids needs to be reigned in and the global consumption of sugar needs to be reduced), the almost exclusive focus on childhood obesity in the announcement and materials released in support of obesity day, may deserve critical analysis.

Although increasing childhood obesity is no doubt an important issue, it cannot be seen in isolation from the far more prevalent adult obesity. Indeed, most of the current obesity epidemic is attributable to weight gain in adulthood – not to weight gain in kids.

Moreover, one could very well argue that much of childhood obesity is simply a direct consequence of adult obesity.

Thus, while the focus on childhood obesity may be strategically motivated (there is indeed very little public empathy for adults living with obesity), in my opinion, the almost exclusive focus on kids sends the wrong message.

For one, while I wholeheartedly support the public health policies to address obesity, I believe that adults with obesity are as deserving of our attention as are their kids.

By ignoring the adults living with obesity in their message, I fear the World Obesity Federation is sending (or rather reinforcing) the wrong message about adult obesity.

I cannot help but read between the lines, that while governments must urgently step in to eradicate childhood obesity, the millions of adults living with this chronic disease are perhaps less worthy of our attention.

Is this because we continue to feel that adults have done this to themselves? Is it because we believe that adults should be able to conquer obesity on their own? Or, Is this because we have essentially written them off as a lost cause?

I very much do believe that the millions of mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, friends, colleagues, and neighbours living with obesity, are as deserving of our compassion and our support as are their kids.

Rather than singling out kids as apparently the only (or even most deserving) group worthy of intervention, I would have liked to see the World Obesity Federation rally around the need for world-wide recognition of all of obesity as a chronic disease.

Indeed, I would have loved to see the World Obesity Federation declare discrimination of people living with obesity in health care, education, and other settings a human rights issue.

Most importantly, I would have hoped that the World Obesity Federation would have explicitly called for an end to the widespread practice of excluding obesity treatments from medical coverage in almost all health systems, and a rallying call for better education of all health professionals (and policy makers) in the basics of obesity medicine.

Like it or not, many of the kids and adolescents with obesity that the World Obesity Federation appears so concerned about will soon be young adults with obesity, with no access to obesity treatments, confronted by a generation of health professionals who still think obesity is a “lifestyle choice”.

While I do understand that initiatives like the World Obesity Day need to focus on an issue that is most likely to garner media interest and support, I also recognise that the focus on prevention of childhood obesity is merely going after the low-hanging fruit – the least controversial topic of all.

A bolder statement, one worthy of an organisation like the World Obesity Federation, would have addressed the main issue currently facing the millions of people living with obesity every day – the fact that their problem continues to be pooh-poohed publicly and institutionally as merely a “lifestyle” issue that they can easily solve by simply deciding to eat less and move more.

It is perhaps time that the World Obesity Federation takes all of obesity seriously – that would indeed be a message that I could rally behind.

Edmonton, AB


Metformin Attenuates Long-Term Weight Gain in Insulin-Resistant Adolescents

metformin-300x217The biguanide metformin is widely used for the treatment of type 2 diabetes. Metformin has also been shown to slow the progression from pre to full-blown type 2 diabetes. Moreover, metformin can reduce weight gain associated with psychotropic medications and polycystic ovary syndrome.

Now, a randomised controlled trial by M P van der Aa and colleagues from the Netherlands, published in Nutrition & Diabetes suggests that long-term treatment with metformin may stabilize body weight and improve body composition in adolescents with obesity and insulin resistance.

The randomised placebo-controlled double-blinded trial included 62 adolescents with obesity aged 10–16 years old with insulin resistance, who received 2000 mg of metformin or placebo daily and physical training twice weekly over 18 months.

Of the 42 participants (mean age 13, mean BMI 30), BMI was stabilised in the metformin group (+0.2 BMI unit), whereas the control group continued to gain weight (+1.2 BMI units).

While there was no significant difference in HOMA-IR, mean fat percentage reduced by 3% compared to no change in the control group.

Thus, the researcher conclude that long-term treatment with metformin in adolescents with obesity and insulin resistance can result in stabilization of BMI and improved body composition compared with placebo.

Given the rather limited effective options for addressing childhood obesity, this rather safe, simple, and inexpensive treatment may at least provide some relief for adolescents struggling with excess weight gain.

Edmonton, AB


May 21 Is European Obesity Day

obesity dayHere an announcement/reminder for my readers in Europe:

Please support European Obesity Day

European Obesity Day (EOD) takes place this coming Saturday, 21 May, and is aimed at raising awareness and increasing knowledge about obesity and the many other diseases on which it impacts.

EOD is a major annual initiative for the European Association for the Study of Obesity (EASO) and so would like to ask you to support the activities by joining in the conversation on social media. It will help us to reach more of the policymakers, politicians, healthcare professionals, patients and the media who we are targeting with important messages about the need to take obesity more seriously.

There are several ways you can show your support:

Like the European Obesity Facebook Page

Follow EOD on Twitter @EOD2016

Join the conversations on twitter using the hashtag #EOD2016

Pledge your support on the European Obesity Day website

Visit the EOD website to see what we have been doing

Encourage your friends and colleagues to support us too

In line with the Action for a Healthier Future theme for EOD 2016, we hope we can count on your support.

Edmonton, AB