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Report Card on Access to Obesity Treatment for Adults in Canada 2017: Recommendations

Based on the failing access to obesity care for the overwhelming majority of the 6,000,000 Canadians living with obesity in our publicly funded healthcare systems, the   2017 Report Card on Access To Obesity Treatment For Adults, released the 5th Canadian Obesity Summit, has the following 7 recommendations for Canadian policy makers:

  1. Provincial and territorial governments, employers and the health insurance industry should officially adopt the position of the Canadian Medical Association that obesity is a chronic disease and orient their approach/resources accordingly.
  2. Provincial and territorial governments should recognize that weight bias and stigma are barriers to helping people with obesity and enshrine rights in provincial/territorial human rights codes, workplace regulations, healthcare systems and education.
  3. Employers should recognize and treat obesity as a chronic disease and provide coverage for evidence-based obesity programs and products for their employees through health benefit plans.
  4. Provincial and territorial governments should increase training for health professionals on obesity management.
  5. Provincial and territorial governments and health authorities should increase the availability of interdisciplinary teams and increase their capacity to provide evidence- based obesity management.
  6. Provincial and territorial governments should include anti-obesity medications, weight-management programs with meal replacement and other evidence-based products and programs in their provincial drug benefit plans.
  7. Existing Canadian Clinical practice Guidelines for the management and treatment of obesity in adults should be updated to reflect advances in obesity management and treatment in order to support the development of programs and policies of federal, provincial and territorial governments, employers and the health insurance industry.

If and when any of the stakeholders adopt these recommendations is anyone’s guess. However, I am certain that since the release of the Report Cards, the relevant governments and other stakeholders are probably taking a closer look at what obesity management resources are currently being provided within their jurisdictions.

Given that things can’t really get any worse, there is hope that eventually Canadians living with obesity will have the same access to healthcare for their chronic disease as Canadians living with any other illness.

@DrSharma
Edmonton, AB

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Why Would Anyone Want Access to Prescription Medications For Obesity?

Just imagine if the question in the title of this post was, “Why would anyone want access to prescription medications for diabetes?” (or heart disease? or lung disease? or arthritis? or, for that matter, cancer?)

Why would anyone even ask that question?

If there is one thing we know for sure about obesity, it is that it behaves just like every other chronic disease.

Once you have it (no matter how or why you got it) – it pretty much becomes a life-long problem. Our bodies are so efficient in defending our body fat, that no matter what diet or exercise program you go on, ultimately, the body wins out and puts the weight back on.

In those few instances where people claim to have “conquered” obesity, you can virtually bet on it, that they are still dealing with keeping the lost weight off every single day of their life – they are not cured, they are just treated! Their risk of putting the weight back on (recidivism) is virtually 100% – it’s usually just a matter of time.

Funnily enough, this is no different from people trying to control any other chronic disease with diet and exercise alone.

Take for e.g. diabetes. It is not that diet and exercise don’t work for diabetes, but the idea that most people can somehow control their diabetes with diet and exercise alone is simply not true. No matter what diet they go on or what exercise program they follow, sooner or later, their blood sugar levels go back up and the problems come back.

You could pretty much say the same for high blood pressure or cholesterol, or pretty much any other chronic health problem (that, in fact, is the very definition of “chronic”).

So why medications for obesity?

Because, like every other chronic disease, medications can help patients achieve long-term treatment goals (of course only as long as they stay on treatment).

Simply put, if the reason people virtually always regain their lost weight (no matter how hard they try to lose it) is simply because of their body’s ability to resist weight loss and promote weight regain, then medications that interfere with the body’s ability to resist weight loss and promote weight regain, will surely make it far more likely for them to not only lose the weight but also keep it off.

Now that we increasingly understand many of the body’s mechanisms to defend against weight loss and promote weight regain (and the body has a whole bag of tricks that you are up against), then pharmacologically blocking these mechanisms makes this a manageable (fair?) fight.

This is by no means easy. Interfering with human physiology always comes at a cost – which is why we need medications that are robustly tested for safety and efficacy (which is why we are here talking about prescription medications and not the nonsense you can buy over the counter in your local drug store or health supplement outlet).

There is of course no guarantee that any one medication will work for or be tolerated by everyone – again, no different from the medications for other chronic diseases (which is why we have so many of them for the same indication).

So who has access to prescription anti-obesity medications in Canada?

Short answer – almost no one.

Thus, in the  2017 Report Card on Access To Obesity Treatment For Adults, released last week at the 5th Canadian Obesity Summit, the less than 20% of Canadians living with obesity (and that is a very generous estimate) have access to the two prescriptions medications approved by Health Canada for long-term treatment of obesity.

Thus, as far a coverage for obesity medications in Canada is concerned,

Neither anti-obesity medication (Xenical® or saxenda®) are listed as a benefit on any provincial/territorial formulary and, therefore, they are not covered under any provincial public drug benefit (or pharmacare) programs.

There may be special-access programs in some provinces that adjudicate coverage for non-formulary medications based on individual case review; however, coverage for anti-obesity medications through these programs are not guaranteed and are, in fact, rare.

Anti-obesity medications are not covered in any federal public drug benefit programs.

Again one must ask, what will it take for governments, employers, and payers to stop discriminating against Canadians living with obesity in our healthcare system?

@DrSharma
Edmonton, AB

Disclaimer: I have received honoraria for speaking and consulting for companies that make anti-obesity medications

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Another Canadian Obesity Summit Exceeds Expectations

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

@DrSharma
Edmonton, AB

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Do SGLT-2 Inhibitors Change Fat Metabolism?

sharma-obesity-blood-sugar-testing2Since the introduction of SGLT-2 inhibitors (“gliflozins” or “glucoretics), as an insulin-independent treatment for type 2 diabetes, that works by blocking glucose reabsorbtion in the kidney resulting in loss of glucose (and calories) through the kidney, much has been written about the (albeit modest) weight loss associated with this treatment.

Several studies have documented that the weight loss leads to a change in body composition with an often significant reduction in fat mass.

Now, Giuseppe Daniele and colleagues, in a paper published in Diabetes Care, show that treatment with these compounds may enhance fat oxidation and increase ketone production in patients with type 2 diabetes.

The researchers randomized 18 individuals with type 2 diabetes to dapagliflozin or placebo for two weeks.

As expected, dapagliflozin reduced fasting plasma glucose significantly (from 167  to 128 mg/dL).

It also increased insulin-stimulated glucose disposal (measured by insulin clamp) by 36%, indicating a significant increase in insulin sensitivity.

Compared to baseline, glucose oxidation decreased by about 20%, whereas nonoxidative glucose disposal (glycogen synthesis) increased by almost 50%.

Moreover, dapagliflozin increased lipid oxidation resulting in a four-fold increase in plasma ketone concentration and and a 30% increase in fasting plasma glucagon.

Thus, the authors note that treatment with dapagliflozine improved insulin sensitivity and caused a shift from glucose to lipid oxidation, which, together with an increase in glucagon-to-insulin ratio, provide the metabolic basis for increased ketone production.

While this may explain the recent observation of a greater (albeit still rather rare) incidence of ketoacidosis with the use of these compounds, these findings may also explain part of the change in body composition previously noted with SGLT-2 treatment.

While this still does not make SGLT-2 inhibitors “weight-loss drugs”, there appears to be more to the fat loss seen with these compounds than just the urinary excretion of glucose.

@DrSharma
Edmonton, AB

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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.

@DrSharma
Edmonton, AB

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