Obesity is one of today’s most worrying public health problems; it strongly correlates with cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, among other pathologies associated with metabolic syndrome.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO),1 the worldwide prevalence of obesity has more than doubled since 1980; in 2014, a whopping 39% of adults aged 18 years and older were overweight and 13% were obese. The culprits? Ever-increasing sedentary lifestyles and overconsumption of high-fat/high-sugar foods. Which means that the solution should be very easy—to move more and eat less of the wrong foods—right? Unfortunately, there is no simple solution/easy answer. Obesity encompasses many social and psychological layers, which are difficult to get past. Children and adults are constantly exposed to advertisements on how tasty and delicious sugary drinks or high-fat/high-sugar foods are, not to mention the fun and approval associated with sharing them with friends. At the same time, kids will play on their videogame consoles or chat with friends online, rather than going outside and doing the exact same things… for real. Not that I am against any of those things, but a knowledge-based balance is essential. Healthy lifestyles are now being heavily promoted at the societal level, starting from a very early age; as an example, the WHO has created a commission on ending childhood obesity, taking into account the different economic and cultural contexts of each region of the world.
The medical community itself has been changing gears in the fight against obesity. Several recent clinical guidelines advise doctors to think of obesity as a disease and to have a more active role in treating obese patients to help them achieve weight loss.2 As a result, most medical practitioners now require that their patients engage in healthy lifestyles before any medical or surgical procedure is considered. In particular, gastroenterologists are stepping up their game. As stated by Professor Mathus-Vliegen, Gastroenterologist and Professor in Clinical Nutrition at the Academic Medical Centre, University of Amsterdam, there are several natural reasons why gastroenterologists should take care of obese patients: many obesity-associated diseases develop in the gastrointestinal tract; patients with complications arising from bariatric surgery can be managed using minimally invasive endoscopic techniques; and the gastrointestinal tract is also the target for other forms of treatment, like endoscopic therapy.3 Indeed, endoscopic bariatric treatment of obesity has recently jumped into the spotlight since the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the use of two different inflatable medical devices, which are delivered to the stomach via a quick and minimally invasive endoscopic procedure and that trigger a feeling of fullness to help with weight loss.
The ReShape™ Integrated Dual Balloon System consists of two attached balloons that are filled and sealed separately in the stomach of the patient during an endoscopic procedure. 326 obese patients (BMI 30–40 kg/m2), who had at least one obesity-related health condition, participated in the clinical study that led to the FDA approval.4 Individuals who received the device lost an average of 6.8% of their total body weight at the time of removal (6 months after placement) compared with an average of 3.3% in the control group. The ORBERA™ Intragastric Balloon System uses a single balloon that can be filled with different amounts of saline. In the pivotal ORBERA™ clinical trial in the US, 255 obese patients (BMI 30–40 kg/m2) were randomly allocated to the treatment and control groups.5 The treatment group lost 3.1 times as much weight as the control group at 6 months.
Gastric balloons have been around for years outside the US and are not without controversy. Both of the obesity devices approved by the FDA are temporary and should be removed after 6 months. As such, are they effective in the long term? The clinical trials showed that patients were able to keep off most of the weight they had lost 6 months after removal of the device. But whether the same is true for longer periods of time is not clear. It is also important to note that both trials used obesity devices as adjuncts to lifestyle modification and it would be interesting to see their effect in isolation, for patients unable to diet and exercise.
Whatever the case might be, it is clear that gastroenterologists are on the look out for obesity, which is also reflected by the increasing discussion of this topic at speciality meetings. At UEG Week 2015, for instance, you can expect to hear all about potential novel solutions for obesity, new developments in our knowledge on the gut-brain axis and cancer as they relate to obesity, as well as a dedicated symposium on its epidemiology, treatment and management. I am curious to see what gastroenterologists will bring to the table this time around!
- World Health Organization. Obesity and overweight. Fact Sheet No 311 (January 2015) http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs311/en/.
- Jensen MD, Ryan DH, Apovian CM, et al. 2013 AHA/ACC/TOS guideline for the management of overweight and obesity in adults: a report of the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association Task Force on Practice Guidelines and The Obesity Society. J Am Coll Cardiol 2014; 63: 2985–3023.
- Mathus-Vliegen EM. Endoscopic treatment: the past, the present and the future. Best Pract Res Clin Gastroenterol 2014; 28: 685–702.
- Ponce J, Woodman G, Swain J, et al. The REDUCE pivotal trial: a prospective, randomized controlled pivotal trial of a dual intragastric balloon for the treatment of obesity. Surg Obes Relat Dis 2015; 11: 874–881.
- Abu Dayyeh BK, Eaton LL, Woodman G, et al. 444. A randomized, multi-center study to evaluate the safety and effectiveness of an intragastric balloon as an adjunct to a behavioral modification program, in comparison with a behavioral modification program alone in the weight management of obese subjects. Gastrointest Endosc 2015; 81: Supplement, Page AB147.
Further UEG Resources
Invasive management of obesity Session at UEG Week 2014.
Obesity and the digestive tract Session at EAGEN Obesity Conference 2013.
Obesity: Causes and consequences for the digestive system Session at EAGEN Obesity Conference 2013.