The recently released Canadian Practice Guidelines on the prevention and management of overweight and obesity in children and youth released by the Canadian Task Force on Preventive Health Care (CMAJ 2015), rightly recommended that surgery not be routinely offered to children or youth who are overweight or obese.
Nevertheless, there is increasing evidence that some of these kids, especially those with severe obesity, may well require rather drastic treatments that go well beyond the current clinical practice of doing almost nothing.
Just how ill kids can be before they are generally considered potential candidates for bariatric surgery is evident from a study by Marc Michalsky and colleagues, who just published the baseline characteristics of participants in the Teen Longitudinal Assessment of Bariatric Surgery (Teen-LABS) Study, a prospective cohort study following patients undergoing bariatric surgery at five adolescent weight-loss surgery centers in the United States (JAMA Pediatrics).
While the mean age of participants was 17 with a median body mass index of 50, the prevalence of cardiovascular risk factors was remarkable: fasting hyperinsulinemia (74%), elevated hsCRP (75%), dyslipidemia (50%), elevated blood pressure (49%), impaired fasting glucose levels (26%), and diabetes mellitus (14%).
Not reported in this paper are the many non-cardiovascular problems raging from psychiatric issues to sleep apnea and muskuloskeletal problems, that often dramatically affect the life of these kids.
While surgery certainly appears rather drastic, the fact that these kids are undergoing surgery is merely an indicator of the fact that we don’t have effective medical treatments for this patient population, which would likely require a combination of behavioural interventions and polypharmacy to achieve anything close to the current weight-loss success of bariatric surgery.
That this cannot be the ultimate answer to obesity management (whether for kids or adults), is evident from the rising number of kids and adults presenting with ever-higher BMI’s and related comorbidity – not all of these can or will want surgery.
Thus, while current anti-obesity medications cannot compete with the magnitude of weight-loss generally seen with surgery, medications together with behavioural interventions may well play a role in helping prevent progressive weight gain in earlier stages of the disease.
Unfortunately, I am not aware of any studies that have explored the use of medications in kids to stabilize weight in order to avoid surgery. This would, in my opinion, be a very worthwhile use of such medications.
Regular readers will be well of the very real social and health impact of weight bias and discrimination.
Now, Sara Kirk of Dalhousie University, Halifax, NS, invites you to join her free Massive Open Online Course (MOOC), on weight bias and stigma in obesity, which will be starting on April 20th 2015 (just a week before the Canadian Obesity Summit in Toronto).
The course builds on Kirk’s extensive research in this area and the dramatic presentation that was created from her findings.
Participants will be able to explore some of the personal and professional biases that surround weight management and that impact patient care and experience.
This will hopefully give health professionals better insight into how to approach individuals experiencing obesity in a respectful and non-judgmental manner and provide strategies to build positive and supportive relationships between health care providers and patients.
While targeted at health care providers, the course should also be of interest to anyone interested in learning more about what weight bias is and how it can impact health and relationships.
Participants who complete the course requirements can apply for a citation of completion (for a nominal fee).
Given that virtually every risk-factor guideline (from hypertension to diabetes) recommends “weight-loss” as “first-line” treatment, to many this may seem a rather stupid question, but in reality, there is in fact almost no high-qulaity evidence to show that intentional (non-surgical) weight loss actually reduces mortality.
This may well be simply because randomised controlled studies on intentional weight loss have either never been long enough, big enough, or able to sustain large enough differences in body weight between the interventions arms.
Nevertheless, now a meta-analysis by Stephen Kritchevsky and colleagues from the Wake Forest School of Medicine, published in PLOS one, suggests that being randomised to the intervention arm in a weight-loss study may reduce mortality by 15%.
The researchers identified 15 randomised controlled trials of behavioural interventions for weight loss of at least 18 months duration, of which 12 reported at least one death in either of the intervention arms.
These studies included 17,186 participants (53% female, mean age 52 years, mean BMI range 30–46 kg/m2 ) with follow-up times ranging from 18 months to 12.6 years (mean: 27 months), and an average weight loss of 5.5±4.0 kg.
Based on a total of 264 deaths in weight loss groups compared to 310 in non-weight loss groups, the authors calculated a 15% lower all-cause mortality risk (RR = 0.85; 95% CI: 0.73–1.00) in the weight-loss group.
Thus, the authors conclude that being randomized to the weight-loss arm in a behavioural weight-loss study may indeed reduce mortality risk.
However, as readers may realise, this study certainly does not “prove” that it is the actual weight loss that mediates these effects. After all, to achieve and sustain weight-loss through behavioural interventions, participants would have had to change their diet and activity levels to a greater extent that those in the control group. Thus it is very possible that the difference in mortality between the groups could well have been due to changes in health behaviours rather than due to the actual weight loss.
Nevertheless, the findings are reassuring in that they at least do not show an increase in mortality, something that people have feared may happen with intentional weight loss, especially in older individuals.
I guess the most we can conclude from this study is that being lucky enough to be randomised into the “weight-loss arm” of a behavioural weight-loss RCT may just help reduce your mortality risk.
Warning – this is not an April Fool’s post! Rather, it is a follow up to yesterday’s post warning that even “lifestyle” or behavioural interventions can have adverse effects – at least for some people.
Point in case, is this paper by Claude Bouchard and colleagues, published in PLOS one back in 2008, clearly documenting clinically significant harmful metabolic effects of exercise in some individuals (about 1 in 10).
I would probably have disregarded this paper, except for the fact that the authors include a who-is-who of exercise experts, Steven Blair, Timothy Church, Nathan Jenkins, just to name a few. These are all enthusiastic supporters of increasing physical activity with rock-solid expertise in exercise physiology.
Their findings are based on completers from six exercise studies involving a total of 1,687 men and women.
Although metabolic parameters in general improved (as expected) in most participants, 8.4% had an adverse change in fasting insulin, 12.2% has a clinically significant increase in resting systolic blood pressure, 10.4% had a relevant increase in fasting triglycerides, and 13.3% had a reduction in HDL-Cholesterol. About 7% of participants experienced adverse responses in two or more risk factors.
While the authors note that the explanation for these findings remain unclear,
“…the adverse response traits are not explained by prior health status of subjects, age, amount of exercise imposed by the program, or lack of improvement in cardiorespiratory fitness. No evidence could be found for the hypothesis that adverse responses were the result of drug-exercise interactions.”
Which brings me back to yesterday’s post, that even the best meant behavioural recommendation (in this case “move more”) can carry risks for some individuals and may require personalised and ongoing monitoring.
Funnily enough, I would imagine that if you packed exercise into a pill with these types of “adverse effects”, I wonder if the FDA would actually let you sell it.
Incidentally, Claude Bouchard will be one of the key note speakers at the upcoming 4th Canadian Obesity Summit in Toronto, April 28-May 2. I’m sure he will be presenting some of these data and the fascinating genetic studies that have since been done on this issue.
Hat tip to Morgan Downey for reminding me of this study.
To preregister for the Canadian Obesity Summit click here
Following the recent release of the Canadian Task Force on Preventive Health Care guidelines for prevention and management of adult obesity in primary care, the Task Force yesterday issued guidelines on the prevention and management of childhood obesity in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ).
Key recommendations include:
- For children and youth of all ages the Task Force recommends growth monitoring at appropriate primary care visits using the World Health Organization Growth Charts for Canada.
- For children and youth who are overweight or obese, the Task Force recommends that primary health care practitioners offer or refer to formal, structured behavioural interventions aimed at weight loss.
- For children who are overweight or obese, the Task Force recommends that primary health care practitioners not routinely offer Orlistat or refer to surgical interventions aimed at weight loss.
The lack of enthusiasm for the prevention of childhood obesity is perhaps understandable as the authors note that,
“The quality of evidence for obesity prevention in primary care settings is weak, with interventions showing only modest benefits to BMI in studies of mixed-weight populations, with no evidence of long-term effectiveness.”
leading the Task Force to the following statement,
“We recommend that primary care practitioners not routinely offer structured interventions aimed at preventing overweight and obesity in healthy-weight children and youth aged 17 years and younger. (Weak recommendation; very low-quality evidence)”
Be that as it may, the Task Force does recommend structured behavioural interventions for kids who already carry excess weight based on the finding that,
“Behavioural interventions have shown short-term effectiveness in reducing BMI in overweight or obese children and youth, and are the preferred option, because the benefit-to-harm ratio appears more favourable than for pharmacologic interventions.”
What caught my eye however, was the statement in the accompanying press release which says that,
“Unlike pharmacological treatments that can have adverse effects, such as gastrointestinal problems, behavioural interventions carry no identifiable risks.” (emphasis mine)
While I would certainly not argue for the routine use of orlistat (the only currently available prescription drug for obesity in Canada) in children (or anyone else), I do take exception to the notion that behavioural interventions carry no identifiable risks – they very much do.
As readers may be well aware, a large proportion of the adverse effects of medications is attributable to the wrong use of these medications – problems often occur when they are taken for the wrong indication, at the wrong dose (too high or too low), the wrong frequency (too often or too seldom), and/or when patients are not regularly monitored. In a perfect world, many medications that often lead to problems would be far less problematic than they are in the real world.
Interestingly, the same applies to behavioural interventions.
Take for example diets – simply asking a patient to “eat less” can potentially lead to all kinds of health problems from patients drastically reducing protein, vitamin and mineral intake as a result of going on the next “fad” or “do-it-yourself” diet. Without ensuring that the patient actually follows a prudent diet and does not “overdo” it, which may well require ongoing monitoring, there is very real potential of patients harming themselves. There is also the real danger of promoting an eating disorder or having patients face the negative psychological consequences of yet another “failed” weight-loss diet. Exactly how many patients are harmed by well-meant dietary recommendations is unknown, as I am not aware of any studies that have actually looked at this.
The same can be said for exercise – simply asking a patient to “move more” can result in injury (both short and long-term) and coronary events (in high-risk patients). Again, ongoing guidance and monitoring can do much to reduce this potential harm.
In short when patient apply behavioural recommendations at the wrong dose (too much or too less), wrong frequency (too often or too seldom), and/or are not regularly monitored, there is indeed potential for harm – I would imagine that this potential for harm is of particular concern in kids.
This is not to say that we should not use behavioural interventions – we should – but we must always consider the potential for harm, which is never zero.
I’d certainly be interested in hearing from anyone who has seen harm resulting from a behavioural intervention.