Does Anyone Really Want to End the Obesity Epidemic?

smaller_cos_2013_slide911The following is a short op-ed that appeared yesterday in

Despite the evidence that Canada, like virtually all industrialized nations, is in the grip of an obesity epidemic, attempts to address this issue with effective prevention and treatment efforts appear to have barely made a dent in the problem.

Cynics may point out that the reason for this is rather simple — irrespective of whether your industry is part of the problem or part of the solution, obesity can be good for business.

On the causal side, whether you are selling products or services that ultimately increase calorie intake or help decrease energy expenditure, countless large and small businesses directly profit from an increasingly obese and sedentary population that needs more calories and even more labour-saving gadgets.

On the solution side, we have a multibillion dollar industry that promises weight loss, be it through the latest fad diets, supplements or “super foods.” For those hoping to simply burn off excess calories, an entire “sports-industrial complex” offers its products and services, from fashionable wrist-band activity monitors to the latest in customized personal training in Pilates, yoga, Zumba or any other fitness craze that optimistically promises to help you shed pounds from problem zones forever. The insatiable voyeuristic appeal of weight-loss “success stories” continues to sell magazines and TV shows, as well.

In the health sector, the obesity epidemic promises almost limitless opportunity for growth. Whether you are selling the latest in diabetes medications, hip prosthetics or cancer treatments, any real solution to obesity will only cut into your business. What we lack in treatments for obesity we make up for in treatments for obesity related health problems.

Even the health promotion arena is not immune — the obesity epidemic creates and secures countless jobs at public health organizations. And obesity researchers (I add myself to this lot) are secretly grateful for the epidemic, too – after all, why would anyone fund our pet projects if not for the promise of solutions that they offer?

Of course, some of these products and services work; many do not, and few are effective over the long term. Much of the research under way in Canada is important and necessary, and many public health programs are in fact well designed.

So, why do we still have a serious problem with excess weight in this country? Because all of the players who can make a difference tend to work within their own silos. Because there is not enough meaningful, open dialogue across disciplines, or between science, policy and industry. Because there is no real consensus on how to prevent and treat obesity to such a level that there is no longer an epidemic of excess weight in Canada.

That’s why the Canadian Obesity Network (with almost 9,000 members, the largest network of obesity professionals in the world) launched the Canadian Obesity Summit six years ago. This biennial event attracts more than 1,000 health professionals, researchers, policy makers and industry representatives, and provides a unique opportunity to connect and discuss the very latest in scientific research and how these can be translated into solutions.

If obesity is of relevance to your sector – whether you are part of the problem or part of the solution –  the Canadian Obesity Summit is your “cannot-miss” event for 2013. I hope to meet you there

Early bird registration for the Summit ends on April 19, 2013

A full version of the program is available here.

Edmonton, Alberta