How Well Are Canadians Supported for Obesity While Being Treated for Related Chronic Diseases?

National survey suggests significant gaps remain between goals of evidence-based obesity guidelines and patients’ experiences in the clinic

EDMONTON, Alberta, Oct. 02, 2023 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- More than two years after the publication of landmark Canadian clinical practice guidelines for treating obesity in adults, many patients receiving care for a range of common diseases often attributable to excess weight report they are not being adequately treated for obesity.

An online survey of a representative sample of 2,506 Canadian patients living with obesity and at least one obesity-related disease – including diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, depression and others – found:

  • 55% agreed that obesity makes managing their other chronic diseases more challenging, while 41% perceived that a lack of effective obesity management has limited their ability to manage their other conditions
  • Only 26% of patients had received a formal diagnosis of obesity, despite the survey inclusion criteria
  • Just 9% reported they had received a medically supervised obesity treatment, and just 33% of that group said they perceived ongoing success with an obesity treatment
  • 50.0% “strongly” or “slightly” agreed that they wished their healthcare providers would take obesity management more seriously
  • While 54% reported being aware that obesity is classified as a chronic disease, 78% said they believed it was their responsibility to manage on their own
  • More than a quarter (38%) strongly/slightly agreed that healthcare providers make incorrect assumptions about their eating and physical activity patterns because of their weight
  • 18% strongly/slightly agreed they received poor or unfair treatment because of their weight, and 19% strongly/slightly agreed their healthcare provider had missed a chronic disease diagnosis because the provider focused solely on weight as the underlying cause of symptoms

The survey was commissioned by Obesity Canada, a national charity dedicated to improving access to obesity care, and conducted by Leger Marketing. Survey design and results are published in Obesity Pillars.

"In Canada, it's estimated that around 15% of adults live with multiple chronic diseases, a significant portion of which developed downstream from obesity. Moreover, obesity can exacerbate the symptoms of these conditions," stated Dr. Megha Poddar, MD, FRCPC, ABOM. "Despite the evidence suggesting that managing obesity can improve outcomes for these other diseases, it is evident that a majority of these patients are not receiving the necessary interventions."

Dr. Sanjeev Sockalingam, MD, MHPE, FRCPC, Scientific Director of Obesity Canada and co-author of the paper, added that the survey offers a new glimpse of the degree to which evidence-based obesity care is being provided in the context of the treatment of chronic diseases, but that more work needs to be done to definitively identify care gaps and improve uptake of obesity clinical guidelines at all levels of Canada’s health systems.

“Seeing that 78% of respondents still feel that obesity is their responsibility to manage on their own, even if they understand that it, too, is a chronic disease, speaks volumes as to the effects of weight bias and stigma in society,” Dr. Sockalingam says. “The fact remains that outdated and unscientific ideas about obesity – that it’s simply the result of poor choices about food and exercise and can therefore be simply reversed by eating less and increasing physical activity – are deeply ingrained in society, even within our healthcare and health policy ecosystems.”

“Hopefully, the findings of the survey will lead to more collaborations toward better obesity management in parallel with treating these other conditions.”

For more information or to book interviews with the study authors, contact lead author for the study:

Ian Patton, PhD
Director of Advocacy and Public Engagement
Obesity Canada
Phone: 289-927-5576