The Weight of Oneself

New Canadian Obesity Guidelines: Health Over Weight

New Canadian guidelines for obesity care are out and they set a new standard. The new standard is to set aside weight and focus on health. But, this is harder than you might think. Weight is the metric that everyone understands. Many more consumers seek ways to lose weight. But obesity care is more tedious. Keeping obesity under control requires ongoing care and attention.

Arya Sharma, Scientific Director of Obesity Canada, explains:

Science tells us the drivers of weight gain are complicated and unique to the individual, and also that the human body is hard-wired against weight loss. Historically, we have told people whose weight affects their health merely to eat less and move more, which on its own is ineffective and even dangerously simplistic advice. These guidelines represent a turning point in the way Canada needs to approach the treatment of obesity, and that is to acknowledge obesity as a complex chronic disease requiring lifelong support, as we do for diabetes, heart disease and others – this is the best evidence to date on how to do that.

Two Years in the Making

These guidelines are the product of two years of collaboration between a long list of co-authors. Lead author, Sean Wharton, explains that they were badly needed:

We’re still using old terminologies and old ways of actually thinking about obesity. We need to update that because we know more about the biology, about the physiology, and about the impairments and the health.

Public Engagement

One of the most noteworthy dimensions of this guidance is the involvement of people living with obesity. Lisa Schaffer is Chair of Obesity Canada’s Public Engagement Committee. She describes the importance of this:

People who live with obesity have been shut out of receiving quality healthcare because of the biased, deeply flawed misconceptions about what drives obesity and how we can improve health. Obesity is widely seen as the result of poor personal decisions, but research tells us it is far more complicated than that. Our hope with the CPGs is that more healthcare professionals, health policy makers, benefits providers and people living with obesity will have a better understanding of it, so we can help more of those who need it.

Perhaps the new Canadian obesity care guidelines can be a step toward broader understanding of this chronic disease. Losing weight is sometimes a part of dealing with obesity. But the truth is that it’s a small part. The biggest part is a lifelong pursuit of one’s own best health.

Click here for the guidelines, here and here for further perspective on them.

The Weight of Oneself, photograph © Jeanne Menjoulet/ flickr

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August 5, 2020