scientists and patients. Their purpose is
to weave innovation into patient care and
their insights have begun to reach the
front lines, O'Connell says. She points to
a Medicine Hat pilot project on bariatric-friendly care. “It’s designed to improve
the hospital care of bariatric patients,
regardless of what they’re in hospital for.
We need to do a better job for people with
obesity.” O’Connell hopes to bring such
care to every hospital in Alberta.
Over the past decade, Alberta has
also made other progress in treating
patients with severe obesity, says
Sharma. He points to the province’s five
new bariatric centres as one example.
“They’re all world-class, especially the
one in Edmonton,” he says. “Experts
come from all over the world to look at
the Edmonton centre.” Still, Sharma says,
there’s plenty of room for improvement.
“The waiting times for bariatric surgery
O'Connell is also optimistic about
another project: the Diabetes, Obesity
and Nutrition SCN’s work with Dr.
Denise Campbell-Scherer, a family
physician and researcher based in
Edmonton. “Denise is doing a wonderful
job working with primary care teams.
They’re helping patients to better
understand why they have their obesity,
Campbell-Scherer (who is working
closely with Sharma) says the first
barrier is a lack of open communication.
Providers are reluctant to even discuss
obesity with their patients. “How do
we bend the curve in primary care?” she
wonders. “How do we actually change
provider behaviour—to break down that
She and her colleagues developed
a program called The 5 As of Obesity
Management. The course, which runs two
hours every two weeks for six months, is
aimed at Primary Care Networks (PCNs).
University of Alberta. We’ve also got
a world-class research centre here in
nutrition and body composition.”
Sharma also mentions the Edmonton
obesity staging system, a new way of
classifying obesity. Many see it as a
more useful measurement than body
mass index (BMI); it uses a five-stage
system to grade a set of personal clinical
observations, from stage 0 (patient has no
apparent obesity-related risk factors) to
stage 4 (patient has severe disability).
Despite his pride in Alberta’s
achievements, Sharma believes the work
has only just begun. “We have made
progress. But we haven’t made the kind
of progress that you would want, given
the impact of the disease.”
And, while AHS is working to weave
obesity management throughout the
healthcare system, our entire society
also needs to change. “Obesity is like
any other chronic disease,” O’Connell
says. “There are things that the healthcare
system can lead and help with, but you
also have your social determinants
“So, other things need to be considered
too. We need policies that will improve
At each session, the team spends an hour
discussing a topic area. Then, they spend
the second hour discussing practical
ways to put that information to work.
Researchers ran the course with 12 PCNs,
and compared the results with 12 other
PCNs that hadn’t had the course. “We saw
lots of changes,” Campbell-Scherer says.
“People adopting ‘person first’ language.
People recognizing that obesity is a chronic
disease, not a choice. People learning how
to ask permission to discuss obesity. And
people learning more effective ways of
being able to have those conversations.”
If there’s any place that can make
a difference in obesity, it’s Alberta,
“The national headquarters of the
Canadian Obesity Network are right
here in Edmonton. They’re co-hosted
by Alberta Health Services and the