Obesity Treatment is Prevention!

In the August 4 issue of the Globe and Mail, the science journalist Andre Picard puts forth the argument (as discussed at the International AIDS conference) that AIDS treatment is prevention because treated patients are less likely to transmit the disease.

The same, if not more, could be said about treating obesity. Not only is obesity a major driver of a laundry list of mental and physical health issues, including type 2 diabetes, osteoarthritis, and cancer – its treatment has been well documented to help prevent, and in some instances, even cure these conditions. Thus, for example, obesity treatment not only prevents type 2 diabetes, but can often reverse it to the point of cure. Obesity surgery also reduces cancer deaths by 60%.

But obesity treatment is perhaps also the most effective prevention for obesity itself. There is now accumulating evidence that genetic modifications that occur in the womb and during the first months of life in the offspring of overweight and obese mothers, essentially programs their kids for obesity later in life. Perhaps the best example of how aggressive obesity treatment in women can prevent obesity in their kids comes from a Laval University study where the children of obese women, who had undergone obesity surgery, were far less likely to become obese than expected.

Many experts now believe that perhaps our best handle on the childhood obesity epidemic is to also aggressively target the parents for obesity treatments – indeed, there is little evidence that treating the kids without doing the same for the parents is likely to be successful in the long term.

Furthermore, the recent observation that obesity may be “contagious” amongst peers, has also prompted serious discussions about whether targeting obese individuals would prevent the spread of this disorder to friends and family.

Thus, while we wait for policy makers and individuals to make important inroads into obesity prevention by changing our obesogenic environment and lifestyles, we need to also seriously step up our investments in obesity treatments – not only for the sake of the individuals who struggle with this condition – but also for the sake of their families and friends.

Edmonton, Alberta