U of A study rewrites the book on obesity

Some diets, for instance, are expensive and don’t work forever. Bariatric surgery is also costly and there is the risk of complications.

These patients shouldn’t be ignored, Sharma said, but should be encouraged to see their doctors regularly, eat more healthy food and exercise regularly to ensure they don’t gain weight and lose their healthy status.

But resources and policy-makers should be focused on the obese population who are sick.

“We’re not saying BMI is not important,” Sharma said. “We’re not saying that obesity is not a health problem. We’re not saying obesity is not something that is going to really have a huge impact on the healthcare system.”

In Canada, one in five adults is considered clinically obese.

“All we’re saying is you should not base decisions or allocate resources to obesity treatment just based on how big patients are,” Sharma said. “You actually have to look at how sick patients are and that’s what the Edmonton Obesity Staging System gives you an answer for.”

Sheryl Zaporozan, 45, said the new approach has given her freedom not to be ashamed about being heavier. She has struggled with her weight since she was a teenager.

“I grew up with family members who were always saying, ‘You’re too big, you’re too big,'” said Zaporozan, whose weight once reached 224 pounds. She also experienced bone fractures in her feet, since she works in retail and is standing more than eight hours a day.

Today, she’s 209 pounds, and as part of Alberta Health Services’ Weight Wise program under Sharma, she hasn’t kept track of her body mass index, which is likely still over 30. Instead, she is now trying to attain a rate of 0 under Sharma’s staging system. Because she has minor aches and pains, some sleep problems and lack of energy, she is currently at Stage 1.

“It allows you to look at your weight more objectively,” said Zaporozan, whose goal is to eat more healthily. She often skips meals when life becomes stressful, pushing her body into hibernation mode where she packs on the pounds.

She no longer strives for a lean body shape.

“You’re made how you are,” she said. “As long as you’re healthy, as long as your heart is working, you could be a heathy size 14, and that’s OK. And you can be a healthy size 2, and that’s OK.”