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Obesity can be good, doctor tells conference

Weight gain has been a survival technique, assembly hears

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Two doctors challenged mainstream opinions of obesity at the 55th Annual Scientific Assembly and Business Meeting at the Victoria Inn Thursday.

The Annual Scientific Assembly, which runs through Saturday, is a continuing education program for family physicians from across Manitoba to exchange ideas about medical issues relevant to family practices. This year, the conference's theme is nutrition and health.

Obesity facts

  • Obesity rates haven't increased substantially in the last 15 years.
  • 2 out of 3 men are overweight.
  • 1 in 4 Canadians are obese.
  • Men are more likely to be obese.
  • Women with poor education are twice as likely to be obese than women with more education.

Dr. Carol Scurfield said obesity can be a good thing.

"I think this is going to challenge some beliefs that you've had for a long time," Scurfield warned the room of doctors.

Scurfield introduced the obesity paradox which means that "obesity is not all bad," she said.

She explained that in the past, weight gain was used as a survival technique. "In times of famine, you don't want to lose weight."

Scurfield said obesity is often incorrectly linked to poor eating habits and lack of exercise. However, she found there is no long-term data to support the idea of any correlation between weight gain and how healthy or unhealthy someone is.

"So few people sustain [their weight loss]," she said.

Instead, Scurfield believes obesity is caused by a combination of factors, such as genes and a society that has more feast than famine.

"I'm sure the human body is designed for survival. The storage of fat was a very positive thing for the survival of humans. I'm not saying being fat is a positive thing, but every size has its pluses and minuses," Scurfield said.

Dr. Ann McConkey, who spoke after Scurfield, focused her presentation on a single point.

"Weight loss does not work," McConkey announced with a laugh.

McConkey's presentation emphasized the fact that weight loss should not be the only goal of a healthy lifestyle.

"We want to promote physical activity for its own benefits," McConkey said. "Can I make them healthier in the body they already have?"

Dr. Ian Goldstine, the president of the Manitoba College of Family Physicians (MCFP), said continual education is vital for doctors, even after graduating medical school.

"Physicians do have to maintain a certain amount of continuing education every year in order to keep their licence, so this is one of the learning opportunities they can avail themselves of," he said.

Other lectures Thursday focused on topics such as diabetes management, cancer prevention and sleep apnea.

cindy.chan@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 19, 2013 B3

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