Regular readers may recall that for the past nine years, I have had the privilege and pleasure of serving as faculty of the Canadian Obesity Network’s annual Obesity Research Summer Bootcamp. The camp is open to a select group of graduate and post-graduate trainees from a wide range of disciplines with an interest in obesity research. Over nine days, the trainees are mentored and have a chance to learn about obesity research in areas ranging from basic science to epidemiology and childhood obesity to health policy. Now, a formal network analysis of bootcamp attendees, published by Jenny Godley and colleagues in the Journal of Interdisciplinary Healthcare, documents the substantial impact that this camp has on the careers of the trainees. As the analysis of trainees who attended this camp over its first 5 years of operation (2006-2010) shows, camp attendance had a profound positive impact on their career development, particularly in terms of establishing contacts and professional relationships. Thus, both the quantitative and the qualitative results demonstrate the importance of interdisciplinary training and relationships for career development in obesity researcher (and possibly beyond). Personally, participation at this camp has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my career and I look forward to continuing this annual exercise for years to come. To apply for the 2015 Bootcamp, which is also open to international trainees – click here. @DrSharma Toronto, ON Godley J, Glenn NM, Sharma AM, & Spence JC (2014). Networks of trainees: examining the effects of attending an interdisciplinary research training camp on the careers of new obesity scholars. Journal of multidisciplinary healthcare, 7, 459-70 PMID: 25336965 .
Building on the resounding success of Kananaskis, Montreal and Vancouver, the biennial Canadian Obesity Summit is now setting its sights on Toronto. If you have a professional interest in obesity, it’s your #1 destination for learning, sharing and networking with experts from across Canada around the world. In 2015, the Canadian Obesity Network (CON-RCO) and the Canadian Association of Bariatric Physicians and Surgeons (CABPS) are combining resources to hold their scientific meetings under one roof. The 4th Canadian Obesity Summit (#COS2015) will provide the latest information on obesity research, prevention and management to scientists, health care practitioners, policy makers, partner organizations and industry stakeholders working to reduce the social, mental and physical burden of obesity on Canadians. The COS 2015 program will include plenary presentations, original scientific oral and poster presentations, interactive workshops and a large exhibit hall. Most importantly, COS 2015 will provide ample opportunity for networking and knowledge exchange for anyone with a professional interest in this field. Abstract submission is now open – click here Key Dates Notification of abstract review: January 8, 2015 Call for late breaking abstracts open: Jan 12-30, 2015 Notification of late breaking abstracts and handouts and slides due : Feb 27, 2015 Early registration deadline: March 3, 2015 For exhibitor and sponsorship information – click here To join the Canadian Obesity Network – click here I look forward to seeing you in Toronto next year! @DrSharma Montreal, QC
Over the next three days, I will be in Waterloo, Ontario, attending the 4th biennial Canadian Obesity Student Meeting (COSM 2014), a rather unique capacity building event organised by the Canadian Obesity Network’s Students and New Professionals (CON-SNP). CON-SNP consist of an extensive network within CON, comprising of over 1000 trainees organised in about 30 chapters at universities and colleges across Canada. Students and trainees in this network come from a wide range of backgrounds and span faculties and research interests as diverse as molecular genetics and public health, kinesiology and bariatric surgery, education and marketing, or energy metabolism and ingestive behaviour. Over the past eight years, since the 1st COSM was hosted by laval university in Quebec, these meetings have been attended by over 600 students, most presenting their original research work, often for the first time to an audience of peers. Indeed, it is the peer-led nature of this meeting that makes it so unique. COSM is entirely organised by CON-SNP – the students select the site, book the venues, review the abstracts, design the program, chair the sessions, and lead the discussions. Although a few senior faculty are invited, they are largely observers, at best participating in discussions and giving the odd plenary lecture. But 85% of the program is delivered by the trainees themselves. Apart from the sheer pleasure of sharing in the excitement of the participants, it has been particularly rewarding to follow the careers of many of the trainees who attended the first COSMs – many now themselves hold faculty positions and have trainees of their own. As my readers are well aware, I regularly attend professional meetings around the world – none match the excitement and intensity of COSM. I look forward to another succesful meeting as we continue to build the next generation of Canadian obesity researchers, health professionals and policy makers. You can follow live tweets from this meeting at #COSM2014 @DrSharma Waterloo, Ontario
“For a condition as prevalent and dangerous as obesity, we know surprisingly little about its causes and cures.“ This is the first sentence by Nature Outlook Editor Tony Scully, in a special edition dedicated entirely to obesity. The volume features both articles by science writers as well as a selection of original contributions on topics ranging from AgRP and the FTO gene to food addiction and the microbiome. This edition also features and updated map of the worldwide prevalence of obesity – many readers may well be surprised to learn that obesity rates are now as high in parts of central America, northern and southern Africa and in parts of the middle East as they are in North America. Indeed, obesity rates in South Africa are “off the chart”, no approaching almost 40% of the entire population. This leaves millions of people around the world in need of more effective treatments. Blue-eyed utopian notions that we can somehow help these millions by re-engineering societies to eat-less and move more (as suggested in a rather unfortunate contribution to this edition by David Katz), are naive at best and present a disservice to those hoping for real and practical solutions at worst. The simple truth is that for the vast majority of the folks with obesity we simply have no effective treatments, let alone a cure. As Tully notes, “The best way to lose weight is to eat less and exercise more. But as a strategy to combat obesity at the population level, this common-sense prescription is proving ineffective over the long term.” Sure, not everyone carrying a few extra pounds has a “disease” and we are doing an increasingly better job of managing obesity related health problems – certainly one reason why people with excess weight are today living far longer than a few decades ago. But for those who would rather treat their obesity than be on medications for their high blood pressure, diabetes, and joint pain and perhaps rid themselves of their CPAP machines, there are few treatment options: diet and exercise, i.e if you wish to live off 1400 Cal with 400 Cals of daily exercise (as the folks in the National Weight Control Registry manage to do) or opt for bariatric surgery (a rather drastic measure by any stretch). Indeed, there is currently no greater “therapeutic gap” for a common chronic disease, than there is for obesity.… Read More »
This week, the right-leaning Fraser Institute released a report with the rather provocative title, “Obesity in Canada: Overstated Problems, Misguided Policy Solutions“. The Fraser Institute makes no secret or apology about its political ideology: “Our vision is a free and prosperous world where individuals benefit from greater choice, competitive markets, and personal responsibility.” This ideology alone, could make may of us simply dismiss the report as being tainted (conflict of interest) and one-sided. It is indeed easy to see why many in the obesity “establishment” would feel tempted to discredit the scientific accuracy of the report or even employ ad hominem attacks on the authors themselves. A much more difficult task would be to fairly consider the arguments and counter with a scientifically sound rebuttal on issues where the report clearly deviates from scientific fact. This may not be quite as easy as one might hope. Not that there isn’t much about the tone of the report that could be criticized. The Fraser Institute being all about personal “choice”, it is not surprising that obesity is largely presented as the consequence of the “choices” that people with obesity make. There is ample talk of individual responsibility and of course, the simplistic notion of calories in and calories out (or eating and exercise) prevails throughout the report. Indeed, I could find only one sentence in the report that suggests that things may be a bit more complex: “The causes of obesity are multi- factorial, where obesity in each individual case may be influenced by literally dozens of physiological, psychological, and socioeconomic factors. These factors include breast feeding, cultural characteristics, diet, education, entertainment habits, exercise, family life and structure, genetics, income, peer pressure, and sleep patterns. Indeed, differences in genetics may mean that, for similar levels of energy input and physical activity, some groups of individuals may experience more weight gain and higher obesity prevalence than other groups.” Despite this insight, “choice” and “responsibility” echoes throughout the report largely ignoring the notion of social determinants or the complex physiology of homeostatic and allostatic mechanisms that promote weight gain and ultimately make sustainable weight loss so difficult to achieve. Thus, the report certainly conforms with most public health views of obesity as mainly a problem of individual volitional behaviours and the notion that anyone can be the master of their weight (if only they chose to do so). This rather general criticism aside,… Read More »