Hindsight: Three Decades of Obesity Research in Canada

Upon my arrival in Canada to take on the position of Canada Research Chair (Tier 1) in Cardiovascular Obesity Research and Management at McMaster University in 2002, I needed to familiarize myself with the Canadian obesity research community.

This is why, in a paper published in Obesity Research, we undertook a systematic look at all of the Canadian published obesity research since 1970.

Our search of medline and International Pharmaceutical Abstracts databases revealed a total of 1186 relevant articles: 17, 136, 687, and 346 articles during the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, and 2000 to 2003, respectively.

Of the articles, 816 were considered original studies and accepted for our analysis.

Twelve research areas were identified: basic science involving animal experiments (29%), human experiments (16%), populations surveys (14%), obesity-related comorbidities (13%), diagnostic/surgical issues (11%), nonpharmacological approaches (7%), drug-related issues (4%), anthropometrics (2%), impact of weight loss (2%), cost/healthcare use (1%), attitudes/perceptions (0.9%), and models/procedures (0.5%).

Two-thirds of all research was conducted in Quebec (34%) and Ontario (33%).

From this analysis, we concluded that,

“Given the multifactorial nature of obesity, Canadian obesity research covers a broad range of areas with a predominance of basic science but lesser emphasis on community and primary care studies. Furthermore, there was a paucity of research on either clinical management of medical conditions in obese patients or clinical aspects that go beyond weight loss. Thus, although Canada appears well represented in basic research, more attention to exploration of clinical issues and healthcare delivery for obese patients appears warranted.”

Since then much has changed – a similar search today would reveal almost 5000 papers. This means that in the decade since this analysis, Canadian have published almost four times as many studies as during the entire three previous decades (1970-2003).

A cursory search on PubMed reveals that in the first 7 months of 2012 alone, there were more than 370 published articles on obesity from Canada – about the same number of the total publications in 2000-2003. In fact, the total number of publications this year will almost equal, if not exceed, the number of publications in the entire decade 1990-1999.

Interest and growth in obesity research is also reflected in the fact that the Canadian Obesity Network now has over 2000 (out of 7500), who identify themselves as obesity researchers.

In addition, the recent Canadian Obesity Network’s Student Meeting and Bootcamps clearly illustrate the diversity and breadth of obesity research in Canada.

In the most recent competition of the Canadian Institutes for Health Research, over $22 million were awarded to obesity research just a fraction of the funding available for obesity related research in Canada (but still a low figure given the relative impact of obesity on the health of Canadian).

Clearly, Canadian researchers are significantly contributing to our understanding of obesity, its causes as well as its prevention and management.

I am proud to be part of this community.

Station touristique Duchesnay, QC