Seven Closing Takeaways from Obesity Week 2013

Now that everyone has hit the exits from Atlanta and returned to their favorite pillows, here are seven closing highlights from Obesity Week 2013. This has been a big, diverse meeting, full of energy. Media coverage has been extraordinary. The team working behind the curtain on all of the logistics made it seem remarkably smooth, though it surely was not so smooth for them. They deserve our thanks.

  1. Food Addiction Commands Our Attention. Late on Friday, as the crowds of Obesity Week were thinning, hundreds of people packed into a session on obesity and food addiction. Ashley Gearhard offered the best sound bite of the session: “Food addiction is a horrible misnomer…highly processed, rewarding foods are the concern.”
  2. Medical Obesity Management Reduces Costs. Clay Wiske presented a new analysis of the cost effectiveness of medically-supervised weight loss and found that it saves money by reducing medication costs and related costs of care. Earlier in the week, Matthew Maciejewski presented VA data showing that obesity increases the cost of medical care by $8,000 per patient per year in the VA medical system.
  3. Obesity Surgery Is Tied to Reduced Aging. A marker of aging, telomere length, was found to be restored to a healthier state by obesity surgery in patients who had elevated LDL cholesterol before their surgery. The implication of this finding is that obesity surgery may help with healthier aging in some patients. Said the presenting author, John Morton, “What this suggests is that some bariatric surgery patients are metabolically receptive to positive change that can improve markers for aging at a genetic level.”
  4. Effective Web Tools for Weight Management. Corby Martin, recipient of the Lilly Scientific Achievement Award, presented a lecture to a packed auditorium Friday on the application of mHealth technologies to monitor and modify behaviors in a natural environment. Also on Friday, Tricia Leahey presented data from social gaming with that documented a three to five percent loss of initial body weight for participants. The study was honored by the eHealth/mHealth Section of the Obesity Society as one of five top presentations in the field.
  5. Plant-Based Diets Rock the Weight Loss. Brie Turner-McGrievy presented data from the New DIETs study showing that plant-based diets led to substantially better weight loss — without emphasizing calories — than diets that included meat. Obesity Society Public Affairs Chair Adam Tsai commented on the research, saying “This pilot study could have implications for those struggling to cut back on calories to lose weight. The results show that weight loss can be achieved by following vegan and vegetarian dietary patterns that do not focus primarily on calorie restriction.”
  6. Exercise Is Medicine for Obesity. Steven Blair delivered what some identified as a blistering lecture on the need for attention to physical activity and energy balance as he accepted the Mickey Stunkard Lifetime Achievement Award. On Saturday, two studies called attention to the benefits of physical activity in obesity surgery patients, as well as counselling and monitoring to achieve it. Investigators found substantial improvements in insulin sensitivity and cardiorespiratory in these patients.
  7. Long-Term Drug Treatment Helps in Obesity. Susan and Jack Yanovski published a comprehensive review of the subject in the Journal of the American Medical Association to coincide with the closing days of Obesity Week. They concluded that “Medications approved for long-term obesity treatment, when used as an adjunct to lifestyle intervention, lead to greater mean weight loss and an increased likelihood of achieving clinically meaningful 1-year weight loss relative to placebo.” The review is timely because it complements the new obesity treatment guidelines, which did not include obesity drugs within their scope.

Click here for more from the study by Wiske, here for more from the study on obesity surgery and telomeres, here for more from the social gaming study, here for more from the New DIETs study, here for more from the studies of exercise in obesity surgery patients, and here to read the Yanovski review of long-term obesity drug treatment.

Atlanta Skyline, photograph © Brendan Lim / flickr

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