For all my Canadian readers (and any international readers planning to attend), here just a quick reminder that the deadline for early bird discount registration for the upcoming 4th Canadian Obesity Summit in Toronto, April 28 – May 2, ends March 3rd.
To anyone who has been at a previous Canadian Summit, attending is certainly a “no-brainer” – for anyone, who hasn’t been, check out these workshops that are only part of the 5-day scientific program – there are also countless plenary sessions and poster presentations – check out the full program here.
To register – click here.
In 2011, The Lancet dedicated a special issue to the topic of obesity – the general gist being that obesity is a world wide problem which will not be reversed without government leadership and will require a systems approach across multiple sectors. The Lancet also noted that current assumptions about the speed and sustainability of weight loss are wrong.
This week, The Lancet again dedicates itself to this topic with ten articles that explore both the prevention and management of obesity.
According to Christina Roberto, Assistant Professor of Social and Behavioural Sciences and Nutrition at the Harvard T H Chan School of Public Health and a key figure behind this new Lancet Series, “There has been limited and patchy progress on tackling obesity globally”.
Or, as Sabine Kleinert and Richard Horton, note in their accompanying commentary, “While some developed countries have seen an apparent slowing of the rise in obesity prevalence since 2006, no country has reported significant decreases for three decades.”
As Kleinert and Horton correctly point out, a huge part of this lack of progress may well be attributable to the increasingly polarised false and unhelpful dichotomies that divide both the experts and the public debate, thereby offering policy makers a perfect excuse for inaction.
These dichotomies include: individual blame versus an obesogenic society; obesity as a disease versus sequelae of unrestrained gluttony; obesity as a disability versus the new normal; lack of physical activity as a cause versus overconsumption of unhealthy food and beverages; prevention versus treatment; overnutrition versus undernutrition.
I have yet read to read all the articles in this series and will likely be discussing what I find in the coming posts but from what I can tell based on a first glance at the summaries, there appears to be much rehashing of appeals to governments to better control and police the food environments with some acknowledgement that healthcare systems may need to step up to the plate and do their job of providing treatments to people who already have the problem.
As much as I commend the authors and The Lancet for this monumental effort, I would be surprised if this new call to action delivers results that are any more compelling that those that followed the 2011 series.
I can only hope I am wrong.
Anyone interested in the issue of obesity and cardiovascular disease may want to get a copy of the latest edition of the Canadian Journal of Cardiology, which includes a number of review articles and opinion pieces on a wide range of issues related to obesity and cardiovascular disease.
Here is the table of contents:
Lim SP, Arasaratnam P, Chow BJ, Beanlands RS, Hessian RC: Obesity and the challenges of noninvasive imaging for the detection of coronary artery disease.
Garcia-Labbé D, Ruka E, Bertrand OF, Voisine P, Costerousse O, Poirier P. Obesity and Coronary Artery Disease: Evaluation and Treatment.
Lovren F, Teoh H, Verma S. Obesity and Atherosclerosis: Mechanistic Insights.
Sankaralingam S, Kim RB, Padwal RS. The Impact of Obesity on the Pharmacology of Medications Used for Cardiovascular Risk Factor Control.
Piché MÈ, Auclair A, Harvey J, Marceau S, Poirier P. How to Choose and Use Bariatric Surgery in 2015.
Poirier P, McCrindle BW, Leiter LA. Obesity-it must not remain the neglected risk factor in cardiology.
Lang JJ, McNeil J, Tremblay MS, Saunders TJ. Sit less, stand more: A randomized point-of-decision prompt intervention to reduce sedentary time.
Given that most people do not look at obesity as a chronic disease that requires professional management, the most common approach to losing weight is still for people to try to lose weight on their own.
But just how effective are these do-it-yourself approaches to weight management?
This is the topic of a systematic review and meta-analysis by Jamie Hartmann-Boyce and colleagues from Oxford University, published in the American Journal of Public Health.
Self-help programs were defined as self-directed interventions that do not require professional input to deliver (“self-help”) across a variety of formats, including but not limited to print, Internet, and mobile phone-delivered programs.
As such programs come in all shapes and sizes, the researchers also distinguished between “tailored” interventions as those in which participant characteristics were used to provide individualized content (e.g., tailored based on information provided by participants at baseline), and “interactive” interventions as those programs in which participants could actively engage with intervention content (e.g., through online quizzes or entering their own content).
For each intervention, the authors also coded the specific type of self-managment strategies ranging from goal setting to buddy systems.
The researchers found 23 randomized controlled trials comparing self-help interventions with each other or with minimal controls in overweight and obese adults, with 6 months or longer follow-up. Together these studies included almost 10,000 participants in 39 intervention arms.
Although the researchers noted considerable heterogeneity among studies, the average difference in weight loss at 6 months between the self-management and control groups was about 2 Kg, an effect that was no longer significant at 12 months.
Overall the type of program (tailored vs. non-tailored, interactive vs. non-interactive, etc.) did not make any notable difference to the success of participants.
The authors also noted that the only trial that examined a potential interaction with socioeconomic status found that the intervention was more effective for more advantaged populations.
Despite these rather sobering results, the authors come to the rather astonishing conclusion that,
“Results from this review show promising evidence of the effectiveness of self-help interventions for weight loss.”
“Public health practitioners and policymakers should look to implement self-help interventions as a component of obesity intervention strategies because of the high reach and potentially low cost of these programs.”
How exactly, the authors would come to these recommendations is unclear – my view would be that this could be a rather substantial waste of public health funding that could probably be put to much better use.
Based on this paper (despite the enthusiastic conclusions of the authors), my conclusion would be that the vast majority of current self-management programs are probably not worth the time or effort.
This is not to say that self-management does not have an important role in obesity management – it certainly does, but evidently needs to occur under professional guidance.
So, if you do have a medically relevant weight problem – get professional help!
Hartmann-Boyce J, Jebb SA, Fletcher BR, & Aveyard P (2015). Self-Help for Weight Loss in Overweight and Obese Adults: Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. American journal of public health PMID: 25602873
Nevertheless, for those, who still harbour any remaining doubts, the study by Ulf Ekelund on behalf of the EPIC Investigators, recently published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition should drive this message home.
This analysis looks at the relationship between physical activity and all-cause mortality in 334,161 European men and women followed for about 12.4 y (corresponding to 4,154,915 person-years).
No matter how the researchers looked at the data, activity levels appeared a better predictor of mortality than BMI or waist circumference.
Thus the authors calculated that while avoiding all inactivity would theoretcally reduce all-cause mortality by 7.35%, trying to maintain a “normal weight” (or rather a BMI less than 30) would reduce mortality by only 3.66% (although avoiding obesity AND inactivity did have the greatest effect).
Despite the limitations of these type of cross-sectional analyses, which as a rule, tend to overestimate the potential benefits of an actual intervention, the message is clear – it appears that even small increases in physical activity in inactive individuals can have substantially greater benefits to health than obsessing about losing a few pounds.
This is indeed useful information, as we have long known that increasing physical activity in most cases does surprisingly little in terms of weight loss but rather a lot in terms of increasing health and fitness.
So do not despair if the hours your patients are putting in at the gym are not changing those numbers on the scale – the health benefits are still worth the effort.