Obesity epidemic: What can we do to address this serious weight management issue?

Like much of the world, Canadians have spent the last two years focused on fighting – and coping with – COVID-19. Yet, for the last several decades a different kind of health threat has grown, year after year, from affecting only a small portion of the population to becoming epidemic in scale. Now recognized as a chronic disease by the Canadian Medical Association, obesity is a serious condition that affects more than 650 million adults and 150 million children around the world, according to the World Health Organization.

Here at home, the latest figures from Statistics Canada tell us that approximately 32 percent of Canadians 18 or older are obese. That translates to one out of three adults who have a body mass index of 30 kilograms or more per square metre of their height. Compare this to 1985, when only about six percent of Canadian adults were considered obese.


Beyond Numbers on a Scale: The Impact of Obesity

The impact of the disease is often harsh and inescapable. According to Obesity Canada, a national charity that supports and connects people with diabetes, researchers, healthcare professionals and policymakers, says that people who are obese also tend to struggle with other physical and mental health conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, gall bladder disease, osteoarthritis, depression, and low self-esteem. They frequently encounter bias, and are often disadvantaged in their education, and careers.

The pandemic further highlighted the vulnerability of people who are obese. Meta-analyses by various researchers point to a clear link between obesity and an increased likelihood of having more severe COVID-19 symptoms, being hospitalized, admitted to intensive care and requiring mechanical ventilation. Canada’s Public Health Agency lists obese people as among one of four groups at risk of more severe disease or outcomes from COVID-19.

Fortunately, like many other chronic conditions, obesity can be addressed effectively through ongoing management. Armed with a solid understanding of this disease, pharmacists can play an important role in managing a patients’ obesity.

The Three Pillars of Obesity Management

As a starting point, healthcare providers can use the Canadian Adult Obesity clinical practice guidelines to provide context and information to patients. Developed by Obesity Canada and the Canadian Association of Bariatric Physicians and Surgeons, the guidelines set out three pillars to consider – cognitive behaviours, pharmacotherapy and in some cases, bariatric surgery.

A Holistic Approach to Improving Health

Managing obesity also means paying careful attention to other pre-existing conditions. Pharmacists are well positioned to counsel patients on conditions including diabetes and hypertension. Pharmacists can also support patients by working closely with their healthcare professional to ensure patients manage their conditions appropriately, and have access to safe and effective treatments.

Driving Results with a Consistent, Sustainable Approach

Like all chronic disease management programs, obesity management needs to be consistent and sustainable in the long-term. This means supporting any medication regimen with personalized strategies and tools for adherence, like ongoing counselling on managing side effects and recommending lifestyle modifications.

Let’s Keep the Conversation Going

While research has expanded our understanding of obesity, the stigma surrounding this disease continues to hurt those who live with it. Many don’t seek help because they’re afraid of being judged, while others simply don’t know there are medical interventions that can help. This is why we need to keep talking about obesity. It’s how we will open the door to those who need help, and how we can continue to educate the public about this complex and widely misunderstood disease.