2008 Obesity Boot Camp

Yesterday was the beginning of the 3rd Annual Obesity Boot Camp co-hosted by the Canadian Obesity Network (CON) and the Merck-Frosst/CIHR Obesity Chair at the University of Laval, QC. The annual Boot Camp is one of CON’s most successful capacity-building initiatives as evidenced by the continuing enthusiastic feedback from the over 50 students and new professionals who have so far attended the camp.

Contrary to what the name suggests, this is not a weight-loss camp for students challenged by excess weight (in fact given the quality of the food at the camp – keeping weight off is a challenge). Rather, the 9-day camp is a teaching and networking exercise, offered to 24 of the top young obesity researchers in the country (this year’s attendees come from 19 different universities across Canada).

This year’s Boot Camp was again kicked off by Ian Janssen from Queen’s University (Kingston, ON), who talked about the definition and epidemiology of obesity. Apart from presenting a succinct overview of the topic, he also presented some of his original research on the health costs related to obesity.

New to the camp this year was Diane Finegood, Director of the CIHR Institute of Nutrition, Metabolism and Diabetes and Professor at Simon Fraser University (Vancouver, BC), who spoke on complex adaptive. Some key properties of complex systems include heterogeneity, nonlinearity, feedback, learning, evolution, stochastics, relevance of tails, interdependence and emergence.

According to Finegood, the obesity pandemic needs to be viewed as an emergent property of people living in our current obesogenic environment. Because emergent properties, by definition, emerge when parts of a system do together what they would not do by themselves, they are generally not best understood or tackled using a reductionistic approach. Thus, it would be quite difficult to reliably predict the obesity epidemic or find solutions simply by studying individual components of our environment (e.g. urban sprawl) or any single component of human biology (e.g. genetics) in isolation.

Given the complexity of the issues, her take home messages were: all individuals matter; we need to match complexity to capacity; manage expectations; establish networks and teams; create competition and feedback loops; build intersectoral trust; monitor behaviours; measure effectiveness; adopt a whole-of-government approach (no single ministry can solve the problem).

Definitely a great kick-off to the 2008 Obesity Boot Camp.

Duchesnay, Quebec