A University of Guelph professor chaired a national working group whose new guidelines for adult obesity prevention and management in primary care were released today.

Paula Brauer, Department of Family Relations and Applied Nutrition, headed the adult obesity working group of the Canadian Task Force on Preventive Health Care (CTFPHC).

Formed in 2011, the group was comprised of Brauer and four physicians. They were charged with providing evidence-based recommendations to help family doctors manage the complex condition.

The recommendations of the group were reported on by the Globe and Mail, CTV News, the Hamilton Spectator, and other media.

Brauer has belonged to the larger task force since it was re-established in 2009 by the Public Health Agency of Canada.

“I was honoured to be asked to be on the task force in the first place,” said Brauer, who studies the role of health practitioners in managing weight and obesity and the effectiveness of health intervention programs. “And I was very happy to be the chair of the working group.”

She said her PhD in nutritional epidemiology helped in reviewing evidence and coming up with sound recommendations.

The new guidelines will be published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, updating those released in 1999 and 2006.

Adult obesity in Canada has nearly tripled in the past 40 years. Today nearly 70 per cent of men and 55 per cent of women are considered overweight or obese.

“This makes adult obesity one of Canada’s most pressing public health challenges,” Brauer said.

Obesity – measured as a body-mass index above 30 – is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and arthritis, she said.

“As part of a broader effort to stabilize the current obesity trend in Canada, we must encourage primary care doctors to play a more prominent role,” Brauer said.

The new guidelines call for doctors to track patients’ weight and, when necessary, discuss suitable weight management strategies.

There is also a strong recommendation that adults at high risk of diabetes — estimated to be 15 to 20 per cent of adults — should be referred to programs aimed at weight loss. Even small reductions in weight have a big impact on risk of diabetes, Brauer said.

The Task Force is also encouraging Canada’s health care systems to provide more resources to support physicians, and calling for more research on prevention of overweight and obesity.

Recognizing obesity as a health problem rather than a social issue is a key to addressing it, Brauer said. “There aren’t any ‘quick fix’ options. Primary care doctors have an important role to play in guiding their patients to strategies that will best fit, given their personal health, background, values and lifestyle.”