With countless websites devoted to dieting and quick weight-loss solutions, Jim Starko knows how difficult it can be to find credible, evidence-based information on how to lose and manage one’s weight.
The St. Albert resident recently shed 125 pounds after being referred to the Weight Wise clinic in Edmonton through the St. Albert & Sturgeon Primary Care Network (PCN).
Starko said he’s hoping to help others successfully manage their weight, one reason he’s getting involved in the Canadian Obesity Awareness and Control Initiative for Health (COACH).
COACH is a unique program offered through the Canadian Obesity Network (CON) that aims to help those suffering from obesity access credible information about weight loss and weight management. Starko will act as chair of the COACH steering committee.
“It’s a matter of creating awareness, a lot of it,” said Starko.
The initiative, which is still in the early stages of development, will identify knowledge gaps, gather credible, evidence-based information and partner with other existing, well-established organizations to provide free information to obese Canadians.
Like many people suffering from obesity, Starko first sought help through his family physician and was simply told he needed to lose weight.
Eventually, his doctor sent him to the St. Albert & Sturgeon Primary Network where he was referred to the Weight Wise clinic in Edmonton.
Starko said many people suffering from obesity might not know what resources exist beyond their family physician, Starko said.
“I didn’t know what a PCN was, never mind that they existed and that I could have access to all of these wonderful resources.”
Another problem, said Starko, is that people don’t know what information is credible and what isn’t.
“I think a lot of people who have a lot of excess weight and end up trying to lose weight very often find it extremely difficult to find valid, reliable, unbiased information,” said Dr. Arya Sharma, professor of medicine and chair in obesity research and management at the University of Albert. Sharma is leading COACH, along with his team at the Canadian Obesity Network.
While the Internet is full of commercial weight loss programs trying to push certain products or diets with the help of testimonials and flashy ad campaigns, Sharma said they don’t provide the kind of information most people need to be successful.
“They all look very convincing of course because there’s lots of marketing dollars behind it,” he said.
“Even myself, as a doctor, cannot put testimonials on my website. Even if I had the marketing dollars to promote my own clinic or my own practice as a medical professional, there is no way that I’m allowed to do it, at least not using the same tactics and the same strategies that the commercial weight loss industry can do.”
With approximately six million Canadians suffering from obesity and related health problems costing the Canadian economy $6 billion annually in direct and indirect costs, Sharma said there is a need for Canadians to access reliable, credible information on obesity.
“And really be pointed or directed or navigated toward weight management resources either in the health care system or their communities that are based on good scientific evidence,” he said.
Sharma said COACH will start by asking patients what they need to be successful; something he believes doesn’t happen enough.
“We do a lot of telling obese people what to do — you need to eat better, you need to exercise more — and that’s about it,” he said.
“But we don’t actually listen to obese people and ask them, “What is the problem and why is this happening to you?’”
While COACH will mobilize expertise within the Canadian Obesity Network, it will exist as a separate entity.
Sharma said he’s also hoping to launch an ambassador program within COACH.
“People who themselves have experienced obesity or struggled with obesity or dealt with obesity will be trained and taught and given information to serve as ambassadors or as coaches to people around them,” he said.
“The basic principle of chronic disease management is you have to learn and understand as much as you possibly can about your own condition and come up with strategies that work for you.”
Starko said he hopes his work through COACH will help other people suffering from obesity.
“I would like to see us help a bunch of people,” he said. “Just think of the benefits to society as a whole.”