New Canada Guidelines First To Approach Obesity As Chronic Disease

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New guidelines published in Canada are challenging the conventional treatment of obesity and urging doctors to approach the health problem as a complex chronic illness, rather than a weight loss issue. These guidelines on obesity management are believed to be the first of its kind in the world. 

Published on Tuesday (August 4) by Obesity Canada, the country’s leading obesity charity, the new guidelines see obesity as not a question of diet and exercise, but rather a complicated long-term disease. These recommendations were developed by a group of over 60 Canadian professionals led by Toronto-based specialist in weight management Dr. Sean Wharton over the course of the past two years.

Over 500,000 peer-reviewed articles were analysed in the making of the new Canadian Adult Obesity Clinical Practice Guidelines (CPGs), which identifies 80 main recommendations across 19 chapters. 

Obesity is widely seen as the result of poor personal decisions, but research tells us it is far more complicated than that. Our hope with the CPGs is that more healthcare professionals, health policy makers, benefits providers and people living with obesity will have a better understanding of it, so we can help more of those who need it.

Lisa Schaffer, Public Engagement Committee Chair at Obesity Canada

Science tells us the drivers of weight gain are complicated and unique to the individual, and also that the human body is hard-wired against weight loss,” said Dr. Arya M. Sharma, the scientific director of Obesity Canada. 

“The CPGs represent a turning point in the way Canada needs to approach the treatment of obesity, and that is to acknowledge obesity as a complex chronic disease requiring lifelong support, as we do for diabetes, heart disease and others – this is the best evidence to date on how to do that.”

Among the main suggestions the CPGs outline is to move away from the focus on body mass index (BMI) and weight on the scale and to help patients set realistic goals and work through triggers to maintain healthy behaviours in the long-term

Simplistic one-size-fits-all advice such as cutting calories and increasing exercise time that does not consider the biological and scientific context of an individual can lead to harmful effects on patients suffering from obesity. 

Science tells us the drivers of weight gain are complicated and unique to the individual, and also that the human body is hard-wired against weight loss.

Dr. Arya M. Sharma, Scientific Director of Obesity Canada

In addition to moving beyond numbers on a scale and calories and towards focusing on the root causes of obesity, the guide also highlights that it is important to end the weight bias and stigma that is not only prevalent in society but across healthcare.

“People who live with obesity have been shut out of receiving quality healthcare because of the biased, deeply flawed misconceptions about what drives obesity and how we can improve health,” explains Lisa Schaffer, chair of the public engagement committee at Obesity Canada. 

Obesity is widely seen as the result of poor personal decisions, but research tells us it is far more complicated than that. Our hope with the CPGs is that more healthcare professionals, health policy makers, benefits providers and people living with obesity will have a better understanding of it, so we can help more of those who need it.”


Lead image courtesy of Stock Visual / Getty Images.

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