This morning, I am presenting a plenary talk in Berlin to about 200 colleagues involved in childhood obesity prevention.
The 1-day symposium is hosted by Plattform Ernährung und Bewegung e.V. (Platform for Nutrition and Physical Activity), a German consortium of health professionals as well as public and private stakeholders in public health.
Although, as readers are well aware, I am by no means an expert on childhood obesity, I do believe that what we have learnt about the complex socio-psycho-biology of adult obesity in many ways has important relevance for the prevention and management of childhood obesity.
Not only do important biological factors (e.g. genetics and epigenetics) act on the infant, but, infants and young children are exposed to the very same societal, emotional, and biological factors that promote and sustain adult obesity.
Thus, children do not grow up in isolation from their parents (or the adult environment), nor do other biological rules apply to their physiology.
It should thus be obvious, that any approach focussing on children without impacting or changing the adult environment will have little impact on over all obesity.
This has now been well appreciated in the management of childhood obesity, where most programs now take a “whole-family” approach to addressing the determinants of excess weight gain. In fact, some programs go as far as to focus exclusively on helping parents manage their own weights in the expectation (and there is some data to support this) that this will be the most effective way to prevent obesity in their offspring.
As important as the focus on childhood obesity may be, I would be amiss in not reminding the audience that the overwhelming proportion of adults living with obesity, were normal weight (even skinny!) kids and did not begin gaining excess weight till much later in life. Thus, even if we were somehow (magically?) to completely prevent and abolish childhood obesity, it is not at all clear that this would have a significant impact on reducing the number of adults living with obesity, at least not in the foreseeable future.
Let us also remember that treating childhood obesity is by no means any easier than managing obesity in adults – indeed, one may argue that effectively treating obesity in kids may be even more difficult, given the the most effective tools to managing this chronic disease (e.g. medications, surgery) are not available to those of us involved in pediatric obesity management.
Thus, I certainly do not envy my pediatric colleagues in their struggles to provide meaningful obesity management to their young clients.
I am not sure how my somewhat sobering talk will be received by this public health audience, but then again, I don’t think I was expected to fully toe the line when it comes to exclusively focussing on nutrition and activity (as important as these factors may be) as an effective way to prevent or even manage childhood obesity.
Wow, what a week!
Just back from the 5th Canadian Obesity Summit, there is no doubt that this summit will live long in the minds (and hearts) of the over 500 attendees from across Canada and beyond.
As anyone would have appreciated, the future of obesity research, prevention and practice is alive and kicking in Canada. The over 50 plenary review lectures as well as the over 200 original presentations spanning basic cellular and animal research to health policy and obesity management displayed the gamut and extent of cutting-edge obesity research in Canada.
But, the conference also saw the release of the 2017 Report Card on Access to Obesity Treatment for Adults, which paints a dire picture of treatment access for the over 6,000,000 Canadians living with this chronic disease. The Report Card highlights the virtually non-existant access to multidisciplinary obesity care, medically supervised diets, or prescription drugs for the vast majority of Canadians.
Moreover, the Report Card reveals the shocking inequalities in access to bariatric surgery between provinces. Merely crossing the border from Alberta to Saskatchewan and your chances of bariatric surgery drops from 1 in 300 to 1 in 800 per year (for eligible patients). Sadly, numbers in both provinces are a far cry from access in Quebec (1 in 90), the only province to not get an F in the access to bariatric surgery category.
The presence of patient champions representing the Canadian Obesity Network’s Public Engagement Committee, who bravely told their stories to a spell-bound audience (often moved to tears) at the beginning of each plenary session provided a wake up call to all involved that we are talking about the real lives of real people, who are as deserving of respectful and effective medical care for their chronic disease as Canadians living with any other chronic disease.
Indeed, the clear and virtually unanimous acceptance of obesity as a chronic medical disease at the Summit likely bodes well for Canadians, who can now perhaps hope for better access to obesity care in the foreseeable future.
Thanks again to the Canadian Obesity Network for hosting such a spectacular event (in spectacular settings).
More on some of the topics discussed at the Summit in coming posts.
For an overview of the Summit Program click here
The 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.
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.
Regular readers are by now familiar with the Edmonton Obesity Staging System (EOSS), that classifies individuals with obesity based on its impact on physical, mental and functional health.
Now, Stasia Hadjiyannakis and colleagues present an adaptation of EOSS for kids, published in Pediatrics and Child Health.
The evidence-informed paediatric clinical obesity staging system (EOSS-P), builds on EOSS for adults and captures the severity of disease, as well as factors that complicate management, within four domains of health most commonly encountered in obesity:
The EOSS-P assesses four main domains that are impacted by obesity and can impact responsiveness to weight management – metabolic, mechanical, mental, milieu:
Metabolic complications of paediatric obesity include glucose dysregulation (including type 2 diabetes [T2D]), dyslipidemia, the metabolic syndrome, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, hypertension and, in adolescent females, polycystic ovary syndrome. Metabolic complications are often asymptomatic and must be screened for to be identified. Screening should begin at two years of age for lipid disorders, three years of age for hypertension and at 10 years of age or at the onset of puberty, if this occurs earlier, for diabetes. Metabolic complications of obesity can improve significantly through changes in health behaviour with minimal change in BMI.
Biomechanical complications of paediatric obesity include sleep apnea, sleep disordered breathing, gastroesophageal reflux disease, and musculoskeletal pain and dysfunction. The presence of sleep apnea and/or sleep disordered breathing can exacerbate the metabolic complications of obesity, have deleterious neurobehavioural effects, and affect appetite and food intake. Biomechanical complications can be barriers to weight management and affect prognosis. If left inadequately treated, biomechanical complications of obesity can promote further weight gain.
Children and youth with obesity are at risk for social isolation and stigmatization. Childhood psychiatric disorders (eg, depression, anxiety), school difficulties, body dissatisfaction, dysregulated eating behaviours, teasing and bullying have all been linked to paediatric obesity. Children and youth with obesity have consistently reported lower health-related quality of life compared with normative samples. Mental health disorders, as well as some of the pharmacotherapeutic agents that are used to manage them, can complicate weight management, promote weight gain and affect prognosis.
An assessment of the family, school and neighbourhood milieus (the social milieu) is unique to the paediatric staging system and is important given the key role that parents, family members, schools and communities/neighbourhoods play in the health and wellbeing of children and youth. School difficulties and family factors, such as poor parental health, maternal depression, poor family functioning, receipt of social assistance, lack of emotional support, single parenthood and maternal drug use, have been associated with childhood obesity. Exposure to greater levels of psychosocial stress has been associated with higher levels of self-reported illness and negative health outcomes. Parental involvement and support are integral to successful paediatric obesity management.
The EOSS-P can be applied to children with obesity who are ≥2 years of age. The staging system is a tool reliant on clinician ratings, which are based on common clinical assessments including medical history, clinical examination and routine investigations. The EOSS-P is based on the presence and degree of the 4Ms with four stages of increasing health risk severity (0, 1, 2 and 3). The 4Ms are distinct categories, and progression in one of the categories does not necessarily coincide with a concomitant increase in the others. Individuals are assigned the highest stage in which they present with any metabolic, mechanical, mental health or social milieu risk factors.
As the authors note,
“This assessment tool can help support improved clinical and administrative decisions regarding the allocation of resources (ie, human, financial, time) for obesity management, and provide a platform for future research and clinical care designed to individualize therapeutic options.”
I have little doubt that clinicians will welcome this adaptation of EOSS for pediatric care as enthusiastically as they have welcomed the adult version of EOSS.