2015 predictions for obesity research

Dear readers

I would like to start by thanking all of you for reading this blog and I hope you will continue to check back to see what is going on in the world of obesity research from my point of view. 2014 was a very exciting year, with some very interesting developments, not least in the area of stress and psychosocial factors in weight gain. Hopefully 2015 can continue along this path.

Predictions1

As promised, here is a (light-hearted) list of predictions of some things that I expect to happen this coming year:

– There will be an increased focus on other factors than calories as drivers of weight gain, since more and more people realize that the run-more-eat-less-stretegy is not getting us very far in the vast majority of cases, particularly for weight loss maintenance where the results from new trials will continue to be disappointing.

– There will be added focus on the quality of food, as opposed to the old fat/protein/carbs macronutrients debate, when it comes to weight gain. This also includes things like preservatives, antibiotics, pesticides and other chemicals that we regularly consume.

– Junk food will be under increasing scrutiny as a major driver of obesity and other diseases, and the fast food industry will face quite serious consumer pressure for greater taxation and even bans (marketing to children, for example), particularly in California and other progressive places. Politicians will find is hard to withstand this increasingly organized consumer pressure, and will finally start act after years/decades of inertia.

– More and more studies will confirm the very powerful role of stress in weight gain and obesity, particularly when it interacts with junk food and poverty.

– The powerful role of negative thoughts and emotions in weight gain and obesity will gain traction, particularly in chronic dieters who will become more and more fed up with diets, and instead want a lasting solution to their weight problems.

– Techniques such as yoga, mindfulness and different types of therapy will increasingly be seen as interesting additions to more traditional weight loss programs.

– There will be an increased realization that all patents are unique and will therefore require unique treatment programs that more directly target the underlying causes of their weight gain, whatever they may be.

– There will be an increased and much welcome focus on prevention of obesity, especially for children in socioeconomically disadvantaged areas, and there will finally be some much-needed boost in the funding of such programs, particularly in the US, UK and the wealthy gulf states where the problems are quite severe. Asia will also take obesity prevention very seriously given the strong association with diabetes in these areas.

– The food industry will continue to have problems with credibility due to more and more scandals. People will become fed up with food industry shenanigans and the movement to grow you own will really take off.

– Given the extremely high cost of obesity, there will finally be a much needed funding boost for applied obesity research as opposed to basic obesity research, including studies on childhood obesity prevention and obesity etiology.

– Instead of only blaming the individual for obesity, there will be an increased focus on the environment as the main driver of obesity.

Well, that’s it for this year. I hope you have a Happy New Year, and see you in 2015!

Erik

images

Enjoy the holidays!

Dear readers

It’s been a busy end to the autumn and it’s time for some relaxation. I will be posting again after Christmas, a very challenging period for many people but also a happy time to enjoy with family and friends. Make sure you get out to enjoy whatever sunlight you can get during these very short days (at least here at 60 degrees north).

I have a sneaky feeling 2015 will be a very interesting year indeed for obesity research. Make sure you check back before New Years Eve for a special 2015 prediction list of what I think will happen next year.

Happy Christmas!

Erik

Interesting developments in research on body weight regulation

I have had many interesting meetings this year, including trips to Melbourne to meet with professor Helen Skouteris and her team at Deakin university, New York for the American Psychiatric Association meeting, Boston for the massive Obesity Week meeting, and finally Copenhagen last week to meet with professors Thorkild Sorensen and Berit Heitmann.

Having met so many leading obesity experts this year, it feels safe to say that we are making massive strides in obesity research, even though this will not be very apparent to lay people, who are still very much bombarded by advice on the latest fad diet.

For me, the biggest progress is happening in the field of body weight regulation, i.e. understanding more about why excess fat is stored in some people but not in others, even though they are eating and exercising the same amounts. This is also so much more complex than mere calories or genetics, it goes into a range of factors that can trigger weight gain. Much more information about this is coming in future posts.

Once we understand body weight regulation a bit better, and we identify the causes of weight gain, we could be getting quite close to making some real progress in both treatment and prevention of obesity. We have to understand that there are always reasons the body stores extra body fat, it is certainly not a random process.

Christmas is coming up and my plan is to post a bit more frequently during this festive but also rather challenging period for many people.

Erik

The obesity and poverty paradox

summers-obesity-debt-thumb-630x401-35199

The recent TOS obesity congress in Boston was an excellent opportunity to catch up with the latest research. While it is interesting to hear about what other people are working on, it is also interesting to note what isn’t trending so much.

Many areas of research have obviously come and gone from the limelight as we naturally go through cycles and phases in research, with some topics having considerably more longevity than others.

Short-lived topics with rapid cycles of boom and bust include things like new diets or exercise fads, something many (if not most) obesity experts got fed up with a long time ago. The basic rule here is that the more extreme the new diets are, the more volatile the cycle. Such strategies rarely make sense if you are genuinely concerned about obesity, even though they can stir remarkable amounts of curiosity in the short term. The science eventually catches up.

fad-diet-transformation

Obesity research is inevitably a mix of trending topics with shorter cycles, and less trendy but enduring topics that have withstood considerable scientific scrutiny over decades. While these long-lasting areas of research might not always be the most exciting for lay people, they arguably have a more robust potential for providing effective solutions.

For me, there was one such long-lasting topic I had hoped to hear much more about in Boston, namely the negative influence of low socioeconomic status. Obesity and poverty may appear to be a paradox but it was a long time ago, at least in developed nations, that obesity was a condition among the wealthy.

obesity_poverty

It is now well established that obesity is much more common in individuals at the bottom of the socioeconomic pyramid, and rare towards the top. This particular association is also noted for its strength and consistency across populations in developed nations. Since such associations are rare in obesity research, socioeconomic adversity could well be the strongest risk factor we have for obesity development, hence its long-lasting appeal to researchers.

When we investigate causes behind the obesity epidemic we can obviously point to the junk food invasion and increasingly sedentary lifestyles, for example, but we also need to be aware of the quite dramatic changes in wealth distribution, with financial inequality now at its highest level in seven decades.

inequality-p25_averagehouseholdincom

So, since socioeconomic adversity is so well established as an obesity risk factor, the topic I wanted to hear much more about in Boston was why this association is so strong. In other words, what is it about being at the bottom of the socioeconomic pyramid that increases the risk of obesity so drastically?

While there were very interesting studies in Boston that touched upon the potential mechanisms, such as food insecurity, stress, junk food, mental health issues, addiction, lack of sleep, and malnutrition, I would have liked to have seen much more.

This is clearly an area where we can find many interesting pieces of the obesity puzzle and really develop our understanding of weight gain and body weight regulation. This work clearly needs to be multifactorial in nature and not just include experts on socioeconomics, but also experts on social interaction/family dynamics, psychology, emotion regulation, behaviour and lifestyle, diet and nutrition, sleep, fitness, metabolism, endocrinology, immunology, inflammation, genetics, epigenetics, and so on.

Once we start to identify the drivers of weight gain among the socioeconomically disadvantaged, the road to some much needed progress in terms of both treatment and prevention of obesity should be considerably wider.

Erik Hemmingsson