World leaders in obesity research are optimistic about new guidelines out of Canada, which take a more holistic approach to diagnosing and treating obesity.
One critical point is for doctors to stop relying on a person's body mass index alone for diagnosis.
“Body mass index tells me how big you are. It doesn't tell me how sick you are,” said Dr. Arya Sharma, Scientific Director of Obesity Canada. “So, you can have two people with the exact same BMI numbers, two people, they are both 35, one person has sleep apnea, diabetes, hypertension, fatty liver disease, infertility whatever, and the next person with that body mass index has none of those problems.”
Sharma says under these new guidelines, they are concerned that more people could be classified as obese. A person might fall under the BMI number for obesity but still have weight-related health issues.
Currently, about 30% of Canadians are obese. In the United States, it’s about 42%.
The head of the U.S. National Center for Weight and Wellness applauds the new approach.
“That very well may be lead to a seminal shift in how the general medical population addresses obesity and for that, I think they really deserve a lot of credit,” said Dr. Scott Kahan, Director of the National Center for Weight and Wellness.
Another critical issue the new guidelines address is weight bias among health professionals and people living with obesity.
“Patients also tend to blame themselves, so they have an internalized weight bias, so the patients also think, ‘so this is my fault and I’ve done this to myself,’” said Sharma.
Doctors say your body fights back against weight loss biologically, which is why Sharma says obesity is a chronic disease for which there is no cure but can be managed. And today, there are more proven treatments than ever, not diets.
“The only reason why medication and surgery have much better long-term results is because they actually change the biology in the sense to make it much harder for the body to defend its weight,” said Sharma.
Obesity is a complex disease that can be caused by genetics, psychological or environmental factors among others.