uOttawa researchers finding solutions for difficult-to-treat obesity

Special to WC Online

OTTAWA – New findings on countering obesity from the University of Ottawa disproves the age-old prescriptions of the one-size-fits-all diet approach.

While diet plans low in calories can help some people shed pounds, research shows that it’s not the only solution for individuals with more complex obesity issues.

Instead, the study concludes that people with difficult-to-treat obesity need personalized treatment plans to help lose pounds — and maintain their new weight.

The research focuses on understanding different obesity phenotypes and identifying the individual variations in weight loss. As everyone is different, with varying physical conditions, a uniform and universal approach to dieting can be more harmful to one’s health. Aside from personalized treatment plans, a focus on exercise training is recommended for “diet-resistant” obesity patients.

Changing perceptions on weight loss in Canada

In 2021, one in five adult Canadians was considered obese, according to Statistics Canada. With a widespread post-pandemic economic recovery, the annual revenue of the weight loss services industry is expected to increase by 4.1%. Along with economic recovery, the demand for weight loss services are expected to rise as people re-emerge from pandemic lockdowns, a period when local gyms and related facilities were closed.

While generalized diet plans still remain popular, people are also turning to weight loss programs that go beyond what they should and shouldn’t eat. When starting a weight loss program – particularly with personalized treatment plans – consumers will start with an assessment of their current weight and height, as well as their target weight. From there, weight loss providers can customize diet plans and recommend appropriate healthy habits to follow. This way, people are exposed to a balanced and psychologically healthier approach to weight loss, as it is holistic and isn’t reliant on off-limits dietary restrictions and rules.

Personalized treatment plans have long been the subject of various studies, especially in relation to treating people with obesity. Research challenging the concept of individual agency in battling obesity suggests that lifestyle interventions may be insufficient in achieving medically significant and sustained weight loss. It’s important to steer away from placing blame — suggesting a lack of motivation or willpower, for example — among people suffering from obesity. Rather, making treatments such as pharmacotherapy and surgery more accessible may be key to improving the quality of life for clinically obese people.

Pursuing effective and sustainable weight loss

As mentioned above, a crucial first step to shifting away from dietary limitations when it comes to weight loss is recognizing the stigma around obese and overweight individuals. Stigma pulls the focus away from more positive, health-seeking approaches to countering obesity that may lead to negative health consequences. While this is a dominant issue with the general population, there is also much to be done in policy — speeding up policy improvements related to treatment accessibility can be impactful — as well as in healthcare contexts.

Over decades of research and tests being done on the subject has led to developments of novel obesity treatment approaches. One such development is unimolecular polypharmacology, in which studies revealed that combination therapies, when compared to single hormone therapies, achieved better metabolic results in test subjects. Other innovative approaches include novel induced pluripotent stem cell technologies, as well as CRISPR-mediated gene editing to functionally repair defective gene variants that lead to obesity.

Other ways of pursuing weight loss in obesity highlights the importance of noticing signs of the condition at earlier stages in an individual’s life, such as accelerated weight gains in children and teenagers. There also needs to be added focus on the factors that may be causing weight gain, like stress or other mental health issues common in an age group, and appropriate measures should be taken to prevent obesity in the long run.

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