Happy Birthday to Alberta Health Services

Since yesterday, April 1, 2009, Capital Health (which together with the University of Alberta was responsible for my recruitment to Edmonton in September 2007) has officially ceased to exist. It has been officially replaced by Alberta Health Services, a mammoth organisation of over 90,000 employees created through the amalgamation of the former 12 Alberta health regions.

While the transition phase, which began in Summer last year, has had its challenges, I also see tremendous opportunities for improving obesity care across the province. Currently, secondary and tertiary bariatric services, delivered in a comprehensive interdisciplinary program (WeightWise), ranging from community-based behavioural interventions (for kids and adults) to cutting-edge bariatric surgery, are only available in Edmonton (rudimentary programs exist in Calgary, Red Deer, Medicine Hat and Fort McMurray). This is nowhere close to meeting the massive and ever-increasing demand for obesity care that is urgently needed across the province.

Based on current statistics there are anywhere between 50 and 75,000 Albertans with a BMI over 40 (over 600,000 Albertans have a BMI>30). It is estimated that the annual cost of obesity to Alberta’s economy may be as high as $1.4 billion dollars – less than 1% of this sum goes to actually treating obesity – much of it is spent on managing the manifold complications of obesity such as diabetes, heart disease, joint replacements, reflux disease, etc.).

I sincerely hope that AHS will seize the timely and unique opportunity offered by the restructuring of the provincial health care system to develop a province-wide program that will provide timely and equitable access to evidence-based obesity treatments to all Albertans, thereby directly tackling one of the major root causes of most of the chronic diseases that account for the continuing increase in health care costs in the province.

As I wrote in my recent article in the Globe and Mail – not spending on obesity treatments is something no healthcare system can continue to afford.

Alberta, as every province in Canada, urgently needs to deliver and expand preventive and therapeutic services for obesity within a chronic disease management paradigm.

Reorganization of health care in Alberta provides a unique opportunity to rethink the priorities and address some of the root causes of the rising cost of health care, which now eats up (no pun intended) almost 40% of the entire provincial budget.

I look forward to working closely with the new AHS leadership to provide equitable, timely and cost-effective obesity prevention and treatments to all Albertans.

Edmonton, Alberta