Battling the bulge
Researchers examine ways to curb obesity
by Jeff Green
A dramatic increase in obesity rates in Canada – particularly among young adults – has prompted a team of Memorial researchers to look at new ways to trigger weight loss for those in battle with the bulge.
Armed with $10,000 in funding from the Newfoundland and Labrador Centre for Applied Health Research, the team from the School of Human Kinetics and Recreation analyzed whether or not hypoxia can increase basal metabolic rate, an indirect measurement of total energy expenditure at rest and possibly lead to weight loss.
It was all part of a pilot study resulting in a “solid start” to understanding a complex issue, said Dr. Fabien Basset, an assistant professor in the school and the lead investigator.
“Hypoxia is basically a lower oxygen concentration in inspired air and has mainly been used as a means to improve aerobic capacity in highly endurance trained athletes,” he explained.
“Lately new perspectives have emerged from studies on human hypoxia tolerance showing that the majority of weight loss in lean male subjects was attributed to loss of fat mass.”
Dr. Basset and his team – which included master’s student Chad Workman and undergraduate student Jessica Rideout – set out to examine whether the same effect of hypoxia could be trigged in sedentary males.
To test their theory, they recruited 11 young men between the ages of 19 and 25 with a body mass index of 25. All but one was considered moderately overweight and unfit.
The researchers used a top-notch piece of equipment in the school to conduct their study. In short, the machine allowed high altitude – 4,000 metres above sea level – to be simulated. The participants strapped on a special face mask through which they breathed in hypoxic air mixture by using a piece of equipment Dr. Basset uses regularly in his research known as the Go2Altitude.
Researchers assessed participants’ energy expenditure before and after the treatment following an overnight fast.
In the end, the results showed a significant shift in substrate utilization towards fat.
“In brief, we have shown that after being exposed to hypoxia our body is utilizing more fat. Let me put it to you this way, if 55 per cent of your energy was coming from fat before the exposition, you increased this value after being exposed,” noted Dr. Basset.
Dr. Basset said his pilot study is a “step in the right direction” and offers “effective insight” into understanding the dramatic increase in obesity rates as a threat to public health.
“It is an important start. Our research provides valuable information for future research in the area of hypoxia as a new therapeutic strategy to improve the management of weight loss,” he added.
Dr. Basset will present the findings from his study at the Canadian Society of Exercise Physiology conference which is taking place in Alberta this fall.