The second National Obesity Summit was held this past April 28 – May 1 in Ottawa, and it’s an unfortunate fact that out-of-control obesity rates make such events necessary. The first event two years ago drew 400 attendees, whereas this year it climbed to 750.
The event draws physicians, diabetes educators, psychologists, researchers and government representatives. One of those attendees was obesity researcher Dr. Sue Pedesen, a specialist in endocrinology and metabolism. I spoked with her and asked her what the key topics were from this year’s summit.
“We definitely are starting to get a better understanding of the causes of obesity,” she told me. “It is so much more than ‘eat less, exercise more.’ Emotional eating and other eating disorders are playing a large role.”
Dr. Pedersen then went on to discuss five different categories that were hot topics at the summit:
1. Genetics: “There are least 45 obesity-related genes that have been discovered and each one contributes 2-3kg to body weight. We don’t understand a lot aobut how they work; some create a different balance in hunger hormones and others cause fat storage. It’s not that some people are genetically fixed to be obese, but it can set the stage.”
Dr. Pedersen also mentioned how a woman who is obese while pregnant increases the prevalence of the child being obese through epigenetic changes that take place in utero.
2. Environment: “There was a lot at the conference about guiding Canadians to lead healthier lives. For example, should there be a junk food tax? Can we create programs to get Canadians to focus on weight loss and healthy eating and getting more exercise?”
3. Childhood obesity: “Eight percent of Canadian adolescents are obese, so how do we create good family-based programs to help them lose weight? These have to be focused on the parents because if they lose weight, then the kids lose weight by default.” This definitely has my vote. Parents need to take tight control of what their children eat and how much exercise they get. My kids get sent to school with a healthy lunch and no money, and not exercising is not an option in our family.
Sue also had some interesting comments about adolescents and bariatic surgery. “Lap banding is favoured in kids [in extreme cases where it is deemed necessary] because it is the least invasive and is reversable. The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto is the only place in Canada that is doing it right now. The decisions for bariatric surgery with children are very challenging, and is far more complex for kids than for adults.”
4. Adult obesity management: “There was a big focus on weight-loss surgery for people with Type 2 diabetes because the surgery can put it into remission. Having the surgery is done when the benefits of it outweigh the risks. Bariatric surgery can be the appropriate decision for a patient who has failed in all other attempts to lose weight.” Dr. Pedersen stated that such patients required psychological counseling as well, and that this is never a decision to be entered into lightly.
In regards to bariatric surgery, there is not enough funding so the wait list is about five years. Some provinces allow people to pay for it themselves, allowing lap banding for about $16-20 thousand for those who don’t want to wait.
I know that some people shake their heads at weight loss surgery, but the fact is that it saves lives. Yes, it is a last resort to be used when all else fails, but the simple fact is that there are a lot of people who are in that situation — where everything else has failed. They need help, and surgery may be the only option.
Finally, Dr. Pedersen has a fascinating blog, so if you are interested in weight loss information and obesity research, I advise you to check it out.