10 years ago, I was enticed to take up an endowed “Chair” in obesity research and management at the University of Alberta with the task to develop and lead the fledgling bariatric program at the Royal Alexandra Hospital.
The decision to move to the University of Alberta from a prestigious Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in obesity at McMaster University, where my research enterprise was moving along just fine, was largely prompted by the Ontario Government’s bumbling indecision (despite all of my considerable and enthusiastic advocacy efforts on behalf of my patients) about promoting much needed bariatric services in Ontario (as a side note, only six weeks after I had signed on with the University of Alberta, the Ontario government, after much to-and-froing, finally did announce substantial funding for a province-wide bariatric program, which continues to this date as the Ontario Bariatric Network).
Despite my sadness at leaving my most wonderful and supportive colleagues at McMaster University, I have not for a moment regretted my move to Edmonton. Not only did I find another set of as supportive colleagues at the University of Alberta but also the committed and dedicated staff within Capital Health (now part of Alberta Health Services), all of which enthusiastically supported the creation of a now world-class academic bariatric program in Edmonton. With well over 100 peer-reviewed publications to show for (with a notable mention to the colleagues who helped develop the Edmonton Obesity Staging System and the 5As of Obesity Management), the academic work in obesity was only a rather small part of my activities as “Chair”.
Together with my colleagues at Alberta Health Services, we supported a total of 5 bariatric clinics across the province, all of which are now up and serving Albertans living with severe obesity – each adapted to local resources and interests. Of these, the Edmonton Adult Bariatric Specialty Program at the Royal Alexandra Hospital of course continues as the flagship program, offering a full suite of behavioural, medical, and surgical treatments for Albertans with severe obesity.
With my move to Edmonton, so did the national office of the Canadian Obesity Network (co-hosted by the University of Alberta and Alberta Health Services). As readers will be well aware, this pan-Canadian network of now well over 15,000 obesity researchers, health professionals, trainees, and now 1000s of public supporters, continues to grow and steadfastly pursue its important mission of promoting obesity research, professional education in obesity management, fighting weight bias and discrimination, and advocating for better access to obesity prevention and management for all Canadian children and adults across the continuum of care.
Now, as the 2nd (non-renewable) 5-year term of my appointment as “Obesity Chair” comes to an end, I can only humbly express my sincere thanks to all of my many colleagues and staff at the University of Alberta and Alberta Health Services for supporting all of my activities. I also send out a sincere vote of thanks to all my patients, who continue to keep me well grounded in the reality of clinical obesity practice.
While I may no longer hold the “Chair”, I will of course continue serving in my role as Professor at the University of Alberta and fully aim to further pursue all of my academic and clinical activities while continuing to advocate for better access to obesity care for Albertans (and all Canadians). I also plan to continue to in my role as Medical Co-Director of Alberta Health Services’ Obesity Strategy.
As the search now commences for a new endowed “Chair” (and I know that the University will be looking for the best possible candidates from across Canada and the world), I look forward to working closely with whoever takes on this role to continue improving care for Albertan adults and children living with obesity.
Readers will recall, that once-weekly injections of the novel long-acting GLP-1 analogue semaglutide was recently shown (in patients with type 2 diabetes) to result in a rather impressive weight loss.
Now, a phase II dose-finding study comparing various oral doses of semaglutide to subcutaneous injections in patients with type 2 diabetes was just published in JAMA.
The 26-week trial with 5-week follow-up included around 600 patients with type 2 diabetes and insufficient glycemic control using diet and exercise alone or a stable dose of metformin were randomized to once-daily oral semaglutide of 2.5 mg (n = 70), 5 mg (n = 70), 10 mg (n = 70), 20 mg (n = 70), 40-mg 4-week dose escalation (standard escalation; n = 71), 40-mg 8-week dose escalation (slow escalation; n = 70), 40-mg 2-week dose escalation (fast escalation, n = 70), oral placebo (n = 71; double-blind) or once-weekly subcutaneous semaglutide of 1.0 mg (n = 70) for 26 weeks.
Mean change in HbA1c level from baseline to week 26 decreased with oral semaglutide (dosage-dependent range, −0.7% to −1.9%) and subcutaneous semaglutide (−1.9%) and placebo (−0.3%);
Significant reductions were also seen in body weight with both oral (dosage-dependent range, −2.1 kg to −6.9 kg) and subcutaneous semaglutide (−6.4 kg) vs placebo (−1.2 kg)>
Adverse events (largely consisting of mild to moderate gastrointestinal events) were as expected and relatively comparable between the treatment arms.
Although this was a diabetes study, these findings clearly hold promise for the further development of an oral formulation of semaglutide for the obesity indication.
Disclaimer: I have served as a consultant for Novo Nordisk, the maker of semaglutide.
This week, I am in Tønsberg, Norway, speaking at the annual meeting of the European Association for the Study of Obesity (EASO) Collaborating Centres on Obesity Management (COMs).
This is a pan-Euoropean network of over 75, that includes academic, public and private clinics where children and adults with obesity are managed by holistic teams of specialists delivering comprehensive state-of- the-art clinical care.
The EASO-COMs also work closely to ensure quality control, data collection, and analysis as well as for education and research for the advancement of obesity care and obesity science.
Current plans foresee establishing 100 new COMs by 2020. There are also plans to develop an international exchange and mentoring program to increase competencies and treatment knowledge across Europe.
Other important EASO initiatives in this regard include a knowledge transfer series involving e-Learning modules for obesity management based on the Canadian Obesity Network’s initiative with mdBriefCase.
I certainly look forward to networking with and learning from my European colleagues over the next couple of days.
Further details on the criteria for becoming a EASO COM are available here.
The following is a guest post from my Australian colleague Dr. Georgia Rigas, who reports on the recent recognition of obesity as a disease by the Royal Australian College of General Practice (RACGP).
Last week, the Royal Australian College of General Practice (RACGP) President, Dr Seidel recognised obesity as a disease. The RACGP is the first medical college in Australia to do so.
This was exciting news given that we have just observed World Obesity Day a few days ago.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics1, over 60% of Australian adults are classified as having overweight or obesity, and more than 25% of these have obesity [defined as a Body Mass Index (BMI) ≥30] (ABS2012). Similarly in 2007, around 25% of children aged 2–16 were identified as having overweight or obesity, with 6% classified as having obesity (DoHA 2008). These are alarming statistics.
The recent published BEACH data for 2015-162, showed that the proportion of Australian adults aged 45-64yo presenting to GPs has almost doubled in the last 15+ years. Worryingly the numbers are predicted to continue rising, with 70% of Australians predicted to have overweight or obesity by 2025. Embarrassingly, the BEACH data also indicated that <1% of GP consultations centred around obesity management.
So obviously what we, as GPs have been doing..,or rather not doing…isn’t working!
The RACGP’s General Practice: Health of the Nation 2017 3report found Australian GPs identified obesity and complications from obesity as one of the most significant health problems Australia faces today and will continue to face in coming years as the incidence of obesity continues to rise.
But what are we doing about it?…. I think the answer is evident… clearly not enough!
Thus, we can only hope that this announcement by the RACGP will have a ripple effect, with other medical colleges in Australia and then the Australian Medical Association following suit.
So what does this mean in practical terms?
For those individuals with obesity (BMI ≥30) with no “apparent” comorbidities or complications from their excess weight…[though you could argue they will develop (if not already) premature osteoarthritis of the weight bearing joints…..] would be eligible for a chronic care plan [government subsidized access to a limited number of consultations with allied health services] given the chronic and progressive nature of the disease.
It also highlights the need for GPs to start screening ALL patients in their practice-young and old;
- for children their parameters need to be plotted on a BMI-for-age chart;
- for adults BMI & waist circumference, taking into account their ethnicity (as different cut- offs for different ethnic groups) and physical activity levels (if they are muscular or not) are important
This powerful statement should help clear any ambivalence.
Why is there a therapeutic inertia when it comes to treating people with obesity?
People with obesity suffer significant degrees of stigma, discrimination and weight bias and as a result may be reluctant to access healthcare. Today, we are giving these patients a voice.
As health care professionals, let’s not forget that the health message needs to change from “lose weight” to “gain health” in recognition that obesity is about more than body weight.
In closing, to effectively and equitably work towards reducing obesity in our communities, we need a balanced combination of both individual and public health measures. This media release by the RACGP shows their commitment to both the primary prevention and the treatment of this life- threatening disease, to ensure better health outcomes and quality of life for all Australians.
Dr Georgia Rigas, MBBS FRACGP
SCOPE certified obesity doctor
Bariatric Medical Practitioner
“Adult Obesity in Brazil” is a free, online continuing professional development (CPD) program that provides 1 hour of accredited learning on the following topics:
- The importance of managing obesity
- How to manage obesity to reduce disease burden
- Behaviourial and pharmaceutical management
The program was developed in collaboration my Brazilian colleagues Cintia Cercato, Bruno Halpern, and Nelson Nardo Jr.
You can access the “Adult Obesity in Brazil” program online at no charge to receive one hour of accredited learning.
Registration is free.
For more information click here