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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


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


The Weight Of Living

weight-of-livingIn its approach to addressing weight bias and discrimination, the Canadian Obesity Network recently launched the “Weight of Living” (WoL) project on its facebook page.

Modelled on “Humans of New York”, WoL presents images and stories of Canadians living with obesity in all their diversity and variation.

After all, nothing is more effective in breaking down stereotypes and barriers than realizing that people living with obesity are no different from everyone else, in their hopes, their dreams, their challenges, their aspirations – doing their best to cope and overcome what life throws at them.

Rather than promoting a culture of fat-shaming and blaming, the Canadian Obesity Network seeks to destigmatise those living with obesity by encouraging them to share their real stories in their own words.

Thus, this project seeks to dismantle the stereotypes that surround the lives of people who live with obesity, including the notion that everyone who has overweight or obesity wants to lose weight because they are unhappy with themselves.

Many of the stories you will see in the upcoming weeks do not reflect this. The Canadian Obesity Network hopes that, by sharing these experiences, we all will realize that people who have overweight or obese have goals, dreams, and aspirations just like everyone else, and that their weight is not necessarily a barrier to achieving these, nor is it something that needs to be a source of fear and shame.

In contrast to many other “weight-loss” sites, the Canadian Obesity Network will not publish stories that glorify weight loss journeys, commercial programs or products, or extreme weight loss attempts.

“While we respect the importance and validity of each story we receive, publishing stories like these only serve to reinforce the idea that people who are overweight or obese are living unhappy, unfulfilling lives – and we know you are worth so much more than that.”

Check out the first WoL stories here, herehere, and here

For more information on how to participate in this project click here or send an e-mail to

Edmonton, AB


My Miniseries on Obesity As a Disease

NN Benefits White Paper CoverOver the past weeks, I have presented a miniseries on the pros and cons of calling obesity a chronic disease.

Clearly, I am convinced that the arguments in favour, carry far greater chances of effectively preventing and controlling obesity (defined as abnormal or excess body fat that impairs health) than continuing to describe obesity merely as a matter of ‘lifestyle’ or simply a ‘risk factor’ for other diseases.

That said, I would like to acknowledge that the term ‘disease’ is a societal construct (there is, to my knowledge no binding legal or widely accepted scientific definition of what exactly warrants the term ‘disease’).

As all societal constructs are subject to change, our definitions of disease are subject to change. Conditions that may once have been deemed a ‘normal’ feature of aging (e.g. type 2 diabetes or dementia) have long risen to the status of ‘diseases’.  This recognition has had profound impact on everything from human rights legislations to health insurance to the emphasis given to these conditions in medical education and practice.

People living with obesity deserve no less.

Thus, I come down heavily on the ‘utilitarian’ principle of calling obesity a disease.

When, calling obesity a ‘disease’ best serves the interests of those affected by the condition, then, by all means, call obesity a ‘disease’ – it is as simple as that.

First consequences of the American Medical Association declaring obesity a chronic disease are already evident (see here and here).

We can only hope for the same impact of the Canadian Medical Association declaring obesity a disease – the sooner, the better for all Canadians living with obesity.

Edmonton, AB


Arguments For Calling Obesity A Disease #8: Can Reduce Stigma

sharma-obesity-hypothalamusNext, in this miniseries on arguments for and against calling obesity a disease, I turn to the issue of stigma.

One of the biggest arguments against calling obesity, is the fear that doing so can increase stigma against people living with obesity.

This is nonsense, because I do not think it is at all possible for anything to make stigma and the discrimination of people living with obesity worse than it already is.

If anything, calling obesity a disease (defined as excess or abnormal body fat that impairs your health), could well serve to reduce that stigma by changing the narrative around obesity.

The current narrative sees obesity largely as a matter of personal choice involving poor will power to control your diet and unwillingness to engage in even a modest amount of regular physical activity.

In contrast, the term ‘disease’ conjures up the notion of complex biology including genetics, epigenetics, neurohormonal dysregulation, environmental toxins, mental health issues and other factors including social determinants of health, that many will accept are beyond the simple control of the individual.

This is not to say that other diseases do not carry stigma. This has and remains the case for diseases ranging from HIV/AIDS to depression – but, the stigma surrounding these conditions has been vastly reduced by changing the narrative of these illnesses.

Today, we are more likely to think of depression (and other mental illnesses) as a problem related to “chemicals in the brain”, than something that people can pull out of with sheer motivation and will power.

Perhaps changing the public narrative around obesity, from simply a matter of motivation and will power, to one that invokes the complex sociopsychobiology that really underlies this disorder, will, over time, also help reduce the stigma of obesity.

Once we see obesity as something that can affect anyone (it can), for which we have no easy solutions (we don’t), and which often requires medical or surgical treatment (it does) best administered by trained and regulated health professionals (like for other diseases), we can perhaps start destigmatizing this condition and change the climate of shame and blame that people with this disease face everyday.

Edmonton, AB