To conclude this brief series on our new exhaustive review of the putative health benefits of long-term weight-loss maintenance, published in Annual Reviews of Nutrition, here is the summary paragraph of our findings:
“Obesity is well recognized as a risk factor for a wide range of health issues affecting virtually every organ system. There is now considerable evidence that intentional weight loss is associated with clinically relevant benefits for the majority of these health issues. However, the degree of weight loss that must be achieved and sustained to reap these benefits varies widely between comorbidities. Downsides of weight loss that is too rapid and/or extreme may occur, as in the increased risk of gallbladder disease, the presence of excess residual skin, or deterioration in liver histology. Uncertainty also remains about the potential benefit or harm of intentional weight loss on patients presenting with some chronic diseases and on overall mortality. Clearly, well- controlled prospective studies are needed to better understand the natural history of obesity and the impact of weight-management interventions on morbidity, quality of life, and mortality in people living with obesity.”
The is much left to be done and answering some of these questions will become progressively easier as better treatments for obesity become available.
In our exhaustive review of the potential health benefits of intentional long-term weight loss, published in Annual Reviews in Nutrition, I discussed in yesterday’s post, we also noted a number of issues that remain unresolved.
- The precise definition of success in terms of weight loss remains controversial, and the dogmatic assumption that prolonged periods of sustained weight loss (greater than 10 years) are more likely than shorter periods to have a beneficial effect on health out- comes has never been challenged.
- Some evidence suggests that intentional weight loss may lead to meaningful reductions in several conditions, such as COPD, and cancer risk with a short latency time, although data from randomized trials are not yet available to support this hypothesis.
- Future studies on the relationship between long-term weight loss and suicide are needed, especially in diverse populations, subgroups of patients, and those who engage in other long-term weight-loss strategies apart from the use of antiobesity medications and bariatric surgery. The potential relationship between failed weight-loss attempts and suicide ideation needs to be evaluated.
- There is ongoing controversy over the findings from epidemiological studies on the relationship between weight loss and mortality. Data from controlled studies in this regard are very limited.
Clearly, as we discussed at length here at the ongoing Canadian Obesity Network’s Obesity Research Summer School (Boot camp), much remains to be done for young researchers planning a career in this field.
While the health benefits associated with intentional weight loss for some complications of obesity (such as elevated lipids and diabetes) are well documented, high-quality studies to back many other potential health benefits are harder to find.
Just how well (or poorly) the putative health benefits of long-term intentional weight loss are documented for each of the many conditions associated with obesity, is now detailed in a comprehensive review of the literature that we just published in the Annual Reviews of Nutrition.
The 40 page long review, which includes almost 250 relevant publications, supports the following main findings:
- Defining and assessing clinically relevant obesity and weight change are challenging tasks. In a given individual, there is often little relationship between the magnitude of obesity and measures of health.
- Despite its modest effect on long-term weight loss, behavioral modifications thatimprove eating behaviors and increase physical activity constitute a cornerstone for integral and sustainable weight management.
- Intentional weight loss is associated with a clinically relevant reduction in blood pressure, improvement in cardiac function, and reduction in cardiovascular events. The duration and magnitude of weight change required to achieve a significant benefit are still unclear.
- In individuals with impaired glucose metabolism at any stage, intentional weight loss achieved by any means is associated with a proportional reduction in T2DM prevalence, severity, and progression.
- Intentional weight loss is consistently associated with a clinically relevant reduction in triglycerides and increase in HDL cholesterol. The effects of weight loss on LDL cholesterol are less consistent.
- Overall, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease is commonly associated with excess weight and can show marked improvement with behavioral, pharmacological, and/or surgical weight loss. Very rapid weight loss, however, may worsen liver histology in some patients. Simi- larly, gallbladder disease is not only common in patients presenting with obesity but also highly prevalent after intentional weight loss.
- Obesity is widely recognized as a key modifiable risk factor for osteoarthritis, with sig- nificant improvements in pain and function reported with weight loss.
- Obstructive sleep apnea and obesity hypoventilation syndrome tend to improve with moderate weight loss; however, complete resolution is not common and is related to very significant weight loss.
- Asthma and COPD are clearly associated with obesity. Sustained weight loss seems to be associated with a significant improvement in asthma symptoms. Data for COPD are rather limited.
- Pregnant women who under go bariatric surgery seem to be less likely to present obstetric complications such as gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, and macrosomia.
- Data on weight loss and suicide are controversial. Caution may be in order when con- sidering bariatric surgery in patients with a history of suicide ideation or attempt.
- Data suggest that long-term weight loss is associated with an improvement in health- related quality of life. The amount of weight loss required to achieve a significant change, however, remains controversial.
However, there are many other issues where putative benefits of intentional weight loss remain even less clear than with the above.
For many conditions we will likely not know the long-term benefits of obesity treatments till better treatments become available and are tested in affected individuals.
While I’m here at the 10th Canadian Obesity Network Summer School (Boot Camp), in the Canadian Rockies, it is perhaps of interest to note that one of the founding faculty of this school, Denis Richard from Laval University, has just published a paper in Nature Reviews Endocrinology, which nicely reviews the complex neurobiology of energy balance.
The paper focuses largely on the “energy out” part of energy homeostasis, which is partly determined by the themogenesis of brown adipose tissue and mediated by the sympathetic nervous system.
Thus, several areas of the brain work together in complex neuronal networks involving a host of neuronal systems including the opioid, endocannabinoid and melanocortin systems, that not only control appetite and eating behaviour but also thermogenesis.
These neuronal systems, in turn receive inputs from a wide range of peripheral organs including the gut, liver and adipose tissue via hormonal and neuronal pathways that signal energy stores and nutritional status.
The paper also discusses how some of these findings may be relevant to the development of novel treatments for obesity.
For researchers and students: the paper includes a number of excellent graphics that nicely illustrate these systems.
As a clinician often dealing with patients presenting with binge-eating disorder (BED), I am quite aware of the often pathological cognitive and emotional relationship to food, eating, and body image presented by patients with this syndrome.
Whether or not this impairment in thinking and feeling also extends to other behavioural or emotional domains is the topic of a systematic review by Kittel and colleagues from the University of Leipzig, published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders.
The paper is based on the review of almost 60 studies and shows that, individuals with BED consistently demonstrate higher information processing biases compared to obese and normal-weight controls in the context of disorder-related stimuli (i.e., food and body cues) – in contrast, cognitive functioning in the context of neutral stimuli appear to be less affected.
With regard to emotional functioning, individuals with BED also report greater emotional deficits when compared to obese and normal-weight controls.
Thus, these findings confirm the clinical observation that patients with BED tend to have specific difficulties in cognitive and emotional functioning when it comes to food, eating or body image, however, appear to function adequately in other domains.
For clinicians these finding are relevant as they show that while people with BED may benefit from help in changing their cognitive and emotional response to food cues, such problems are indeed more often encountered in people with BED rather than in everyone living with obesity.
Screening for BED should be an essential element of workup in anyone presenting with excess weight gain.