Spotlight Interview: Ruth Loos, PhD

Ruth, please tell us a bit about yourself; where are you from, where did you grow up? Where do you live now? I see that you have had diverse training and experience – and your pathbreaking work at the MRC in the genetic aetiology of obesity moved the research paradigm forward. How did your original interest in the field develop, and how did you come to focus on epidemiology?

FullSizeRenderI’m from Belgium and grew up in a small town near Antwerp (called Schilde), in the Flemish/Dutch speaking part of Belgium, where my parents had a bakery. I am the youngest of four and have two brothers and one sister.

I did all my higher eduction at the University of Leuven, the oldest and one of the largest Universities in Belgium. Because I was keen on becoming a high school PE teacher, I decided to study “Kinesiology”. However, early in my studies my interest shifted towards more research oriented courses. After completing my BS and MS in Kinesiology, I had the opportunity to become a Research Associate in the department of kinesiology to work on a longitudinal twin study for which I tested the physical fitness, body composition and body shape of “growing” twins between 10 and 18yrs old every 6 months. This twin study piqued my interest in genetics and I learned how to perform heritability analyses. Soon thereafter, I had the opportunity to embark on a PhD focusing on the “fetal origins of adult disease” hypothesis using twins. The twin design allowed me to disentangle the contributions of genetic, maternal and environmental factors contributing to the early origins of disease.

After my PhD, I was awarded a one-year postdoctoral fellowship from the Belgian American Educational Foundation (BAEF), which allowed me to work with Dr. Claude Bouchard at the I very much enjoyed my research there and was able to extend my stay thanks to a fellowship from the American Heart Association.

After 3,5 years, I joined the then recently established MRC Epidemiology Unit, where I had the opportunity to lead the work on the Genetics of Obesity. I was fortunate that the Unit had just invested in the genotyping of 3,000 individuals from the EPIC study, which at that time (in 2005) was still very expensive. This data proved extremely valuable for the discovery of genes for obesity (and many other diseases and traits).

In 2011, I had the opportunity to return to the USA, to become a Professor of Preventive Medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York, where I lead a research Program that focusses on the Genetics of Obesity and Related Metabolic Traits.

Our readers would enjoy learning about your favourite activities, hobbies, and interests outside of your professional work:

I love being physically active [that must be my “kinesiology” past]. I am an avid runner; I run one loop in Central Park before work. I also sail in the summer on the Hudson River, I cycle to work (or to anywhere in New York City). I love attending performances of dance, preferable modern dance, and would also attend musicals more often if they weren’t so expensive.

I see that you are  Professor, Department of Preventive Medicine – Director, Genetics of Obesity and Related Metabolic Traits at the Ichan School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. Preventive medicine is perhaps a more common designation in the USA?

I think Preventive Medicine captures the “Epidemiologists”, at least at Mount Sinai; my primary institute and work place in the Charles Bronfman Institute for Personalized Medicine. Our main data resource here is the BioMe Biobank, which is an EMR-linked biobank that currently include data from more than 33,000 individuals from New York. BioMe is extremely data rich and captures the enormous diversity of the City.

Your global reputation in obesity science is longstanding. Can you tell us about your current research interests? 

My current work focusses on rare genetic variants, that may alter protein function, and as such increase risk of obesity. With the GIANT consortium, we have identified already a few of such variants; for example a variant that is carried by 1 in 10,000 people increases body weight by around 8kg.

Another interest, sparked by a gene discovery study in 2011, is the discovery of genes that increase body weight but which nevertheless protect against diseases such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Even though I have focused my work on genetics for the past 10 years, my interest in obesity is nevertheless very broad.

Dr. Ruth Loos is Director of the Genetics of Obesity and Related Metabolic Traits Program, in The Charles Bronfman Institute of Personalized Medicine of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

Her primary research interests focuses on the identification of genes and genetic loci contributing to the risk of obesity and related metabolic traits. She has been involved in gene-discovery since 2005, when ‘genome-wide association’ was introduced and has since actively contributed to many consortia that use this approach to identify genetic loci for a large number of metabolic traits. Increasingly, her gene-discovery work also focuses on the identification of low-frequency variants through the implementation exome-chip genotyping and sequencing projects, not only in individuals of white European descent, but also in those of African and Hispanic decent. ​

Besides gene-discovery, Ruth uses epidemiological methods to follow-up on established loci with the aim to elucidate the pathways through which they increase risk of metabolic disease. Furthermore, her work also assesses the public health implications of the established loci by examining their predictive value and their interaction with lifestyle factors such as diet and physical activity.

EASO Newsletter December 2015

Help us to design a programme you want to see!

In 2016 the congresses of EASO (ECO2016) and the IFSO European Chapter (2016 IFSO-EC Annual Congress) will merge to create the inaugural European Obesity Summit (EOS2016). This exciting congress will take place in Gothenburg, Sweden from 1 to 4 June 2016.

Submit your Abstract

Be a part of the official congress programme and submit your abstract before the submission deadline of Friday 15th January 2016.  Abstract submission is free and we encourage all colleagues with an interest in obesity to submit.

View the main programme topics to see where your work will best fit. The main scientific programme is regularly updated on the congress website.


EOS 20162016 EASO Awards: Applications process now open!

The 2016 EASO Awards application process is now open, with an entry deadline of 15 January 2016. The following EASO awards will be presented at EOS2016, EASO’s 2016 European Obesity Summit:

  • EASO New Investigator Awards (Basic Science, Clinical Research, Public Health and Childhood Obesity Research)
  • EASO New Investigators United Best Thesis Award
  • EASO Travel Grants

Download the 2016 Awards Criteria document for guidance, and use the 2016 EASO Awards Application Form to submit your application.


OMTF Guidelines Just Published

EASO COM

The EASO OMTF European Guidelines for Obesity Management in Adults are published in OFA 2015 issue 6. Read the guidelines on the EASO website.

The latest edition of Obesity Facts is now published, and is available Open Access on the Obesity Facts website.


EASO EJens Christian Holmxecutive Spotlight: Meet COTF Co-Chair Jens-Christian Holm

EASO has the pleasure this month of turning the spotlight on
Jens-Christian Holm, pioneering child obesity clinician, research scientist, professor …

Read more on the EASO website.


EASO Meet the Editor: Hans Hauner

obesity facts

EASO is delighted to introduce readers to Professor Hans Hauner, editor-in chief of Obesity Facts, the official journal of the …Read more on the EASO website.


Carlos OlivieraPatient Council Spotlight: Carlos Oliviera

Meet Carlos Oliviera, the EASO Patient Council representative from Portugal.

My name is Carlos Oliveira, I am a Captain in the Merchant navy, and I am a Bachelor in Port Management and Maritime Technologies……

Read more on the EASO website.


EASO Patient Council: A report from Copenhagen

Patient Council member Ken Clare (UK) attended the 3rd Bariatric Rehabilitation Congress, which took place in Copenhagen in November 2015 …..

Read Ken’s report on the EASO website.

Festive and healthy food: an interview with Patient Council member Sólveig Sigurðardóttir

Patient Council Steering Committee member Sólveig Sigurðardóttir was interviewed on 29 November by the Icelandic National Broadcasting Service – Ríkisútvarpið, or RÚV for short, which is an independent public service broadcaster, comprising television, radio and online services. The main objective of the National Broadcasting Service is to inform, educate and entertain, and Sólveig’s interview did all of these things.

Solveig discussed her life story and her journey to health, which includes tackling her own MS diagnosis, along with her personal development and new lifestyle, which sees her as a leading light in the Clean Eating Movement – in Iceland and beyond.

Working with Doctor Erla Gerður Sveinsdóttir, she helps people improve their lifestyle, which includes support and training around how to prepare – and enjoy -whole, healthy food, which is a key antidote to yo-yo dieting.

Photos of Sólveig’s gorgeous food is above; a link to the radio interview is here:
http://www.ruv.is/node/971787

Spotlight interview – Hans Hauner

obesity-factsEASO is delighted to introduce readers to Professor Hans Hauner, editor-in chief of Obesity Facts, the official journal of the European Association for the Study of Obesity.

Hans, please tell us a bit about your professional background. How did you come to be editor of Obesity Facts, The European Journal of Obesity?

I trained as an internist with a sub-speciality in Endocrinology and Metabolism. Between 1997 and 2003, I was deputy head of the Clinical Department for the German Diabetes Centre in Düsseldorf. Since 2003 I have been Chairman in Nutritional Medicine at the Technical University of Munich. From the beginning of my career, my research interest and activities were focused on obesity and type 2 diabetes, covering a broad range of topics – from the genetics of obesity and adipose tissue biology to clinical studies.

When Johannes Hebebrand, the founding editor-in-chief of Obesity Facts retired in 2013, he and Karger Publishers contacted me to succeed him in the role. After brief consideration I accepted the challenge of further developing this well established and highly respected European Obesity journal.

Please tell us the history of the journal. How was it started and by whom? What is the current circulation? When did it become open access? Can you tell us something about Karger, the publisher of Obesity Facts?

The journal was started in 2007, and right from the beginning received considerable attention within the scientific community. The number of article submissions to the journal was rapidly increasing at that time, though the distribution was quite limited. This was probably due to the explosion of scientific literature around obesity and endocrinology during this period and, simultaneously, the shrinking budgets of most libraries. Therefore, the former editor-in-chief and the publisher made a key strategic decision to develop Obesity Facts as an open access journal. Obesity Facts has been an open access journal since volume 6, 2013. This change in distribution, which makes the contents more easily available for scientific discussion, is also intended to increase dissemination of the journal.

With the introduction of a publication fee, the number of submitted manuscripts dropped substantially. Now, however, the scientific community seems to have accepted the concept and holds the scientific excellence of and free access to the journal in high regard. The number, and most notably, the quality of manuscripts is clearly rising again. This may also be due to the substantial increase of the journal’s impact factor recently; it rose to 2.25 this year and will hopefully continue to rise.

Obesity Facts is published by Karger Publishers, a globally active medical and scientific publishing company. Independent and family-run for four generations, Karger is dedicated to serving the information needs of the scientific community with publications of high-quality content, covering all fields of medical science. Karger issues more than 100 digital and print journals as well as publishing 50 books a year.

Would you like to tell us about the current issue?

The current issue is a perfect example of the wide spectrum of topics covered through the journal, with articles ranging from basic research, animal studies and methodological papers to systematic review articles highlighting current topics of interest. We are pleased that the current issue also contains the European Guidelines for Obesity Management in Adults developed by the Obesity Management Task Force of EASO.

Spotlight: Jens Christian Holm

Jens-ChristianEASO has the pleasure this month of turning the spotlight on Jens-Christian Holm, pioneering child obesity clinician, research scientist, professor and advocate.

MD Jens-Christian Holm, PhD is a Consultant in Paediatrics, Clinical and Research Associate Professor, and Head of The Childrens’ Obesity Clinic, Department of Paediatrics, University Hospital Holbæk, Denmark.

In 2007, Jens-Christian Holm established The Childrens’ Obesity Clinic (TCOCT) – a multidisciplinary childhood obesity chronic-care treatment facility. TCOCT is unique, and offers families a paradigmatic shift in approach by understanding child obesity as a chronic disease. We understand that the fat mass is endocrinologically regulated and offer a unique and successful treatment protocol.

TCOCT offers an innovative pedagogy providing empathy, self-identification and authenticity. This treatment approach has reduced obesity among 70-75% of participating children and adolescents enrolled in both hospital and primary municipality clinics. It also improves family health.

Professor Holm and his group have published extensively, providing evidence that the TCOCT protocol also reduces prevalence of dyslipedimia, hypertension, ectopic fat in the liver and viscera. Treatment also shows significant impact on parental overweight and obesity. Treatment results are based upon 5.4 hours of health professional time per obese child per treatment year.

Alongside this endeavour, Jens-Christian Holm established The Danish Childhood Obesity Biobank, which includes data from 2586 normal weight and 2200 obese children. This rich database includes deep phenotype description – DEXA, NMR, blood samples and metabolomics, genetics, and microbiota data for selected subgroups.

In conjunction with national and internationally recognised collaborators, these data sets have built a solid foundation and have been published widely, including in high impact journals. Recent studies include research around the influence of familial predisposition on childhood obesity treatment, changes in liver and muscle fat during treatment; research, includes information on changes in blood pressure during treatment.

The Danish Childhood Obesity Biobank has contributed to GWAS studies which have identified a new focal point associated with susceptibility to acute lymphoblastic leukaemia in children, as well as three new genetic loci exclusively associated with childhood BMI.

Jens-Christian Holm’s research activities are multi-faceted and include numerous PhD-projects involving early detection, body composition, pre-diabetes, ectopic fat, genetics, microbiota, and pharmacological analyses of medicamina in the obese vs the lean child.

In 2011 Jens-Christian Holm joined the EASO Childhood Obesity Task Force (COTF) and, along with Jennifer Baker, was elected co-chair in 2015. Through his clinical work and considerable media and public-facing contributions, Jens-Christian Holm has continuously fought the medical and psychological case for obese children, who are often neglected and stigmatised and denied professional medical service in most health care systems around the world.

The COTF recently published a position statement recommending that childhood obesity Europe should be considered a chronic disease. This development was inspired by The American Medical Association which declared obesity as a disease in 2013 and the Canadian Medical Association, which did likewise in October 2015. The COTF statement generated substantial media coverage and inspired debate, as obesity is not accepted as a disease among those in the medical profession.

It has been argued that only obese patients with metabolic deterioration should be considered ill and thus eligible for treatment; we believe this argument is flawed. The Childrens’ Obesity Clinic has published that up to 50% of our young people exhibit pre- or overt hypertension, 35% exhibit steatosis, 28% exhibit dyslipedemia, and 18% exhibit pre-diabetes. This shows that many if not most obese children are, at an average age of 11.5, already burdened by the metabolic consequences of their obesity. We know that there are an additional 16 well described complications, involving orthopaedic, endocrinological, neurological, gastroenterological, psychological and psychosocial components to obesity, which in many ways impede the obese child’s development potential during childhood. We have no advance knowledge of who among these children will face one of 20 established cancers as a consequence of their obesity during their adulthood. Based on these observations, it is imperative for us as medical professionals, to act and honour the Hippocratic Oath and endeavour to alleviate the disease and suffering among obese patients, child and adult alike.

EASO OMTF European Guidelines for Obesity Management in Adults

Obesity is a chronic metabolic disease characterised by an increase of body fat stores. It is a
gateway to ill health, and it has become one of the leading causes of disability and death, affecting
not only adults but also children and adolescents worldwide. In clinical practice, the
body fatness is estimated by BMI, and the accumulation of intra-abdominal fat (marker for
higher metabolic and cardiovascular disease risk) can be assessed by waist circumference.

Read the guidelines in full.

EASO Newsletter November 2015

Help us to design a programme you want to see!

We are delighted to announce that in 2016 the congresses of EASO (ECO2016) and the IFSO European Chapter (2016 IFSO-EC Annual Congress) will merge to create the inaugural European Obesity Summit (EOS2016). This exciting congress will take place in Gothenburg, Sweden from 1 to 4 June 2016.

Help us create a conference that you want to attend. We’re welcoming suggestions for symposia so please use the online submission form to propose your session by Friday 27 November 2015.

Be a part of the official congress programme and submit your abstract before the submission deadline of Friday 15th January 2016. Abstract submission is free and we encourage all colleagues with an interest in obesity to submit. View the main programme topics to see where your work will best fit

The main scientific programme is regularly updated on the congress website.


EASO Executive Spotlight: Meet EASO President Hermann Toplak

Hermann ToplakAfter graduating as an M.D. from the University of Graz in 1984, Dr. Hermann Toplak went into military training in aeromedicine before becoming a resident in Laboratory Medicine at the Metabolism Unit of the Department of Paediatrics at the University of Graz.

Read more on the EASO website.


EASO Media Masterclass Series

masterclass_inviteEASO held an ‘Obesity Media Masterclass’ as part of the EASD media programme. The session featured Patient Council presentations from Orley Andreasson (Sweden) and Ken Clare (UK), and KOL presentations from Nathalie Farpour-Lambert (Switzerland) and Mikael Ryden (Sweden).

View the presentations on the EASO website.


COTF Position Statement just published

Childhood Obesity Is a Chronic Disease Demanding Specific Health Care – a Position Statement from the Childhood Obesity Task Force (COTF) of the European Association for the Study of Obesity (EASO). Read the paper on the EASO website.

The latest edition of Obesity Facts is now published, and is available Open Access on the Obesity Facts website.


Patient Council Spotlight: Vicki Mooney

Vicki MooneyMeet Vicki Mooney, the EASO Patient Council representative from Ireland.

Vicki, please tell us a bit about yourself.

I’m a 38 year old divorced mother of 3 beautiful children. I am very proud to own and run Ireland’s only Plus-Size Modelling Agency, promoting body confidence and a healthier lifestyle and body image to all women…..

Read more on the EASO website.


EASO Patient Council: 5 Key Propositions for GPs

easo_patient_councilAs part of the EASO Patient Council Top Tips Series, members have developed these recommendations for clinicians to use when interacting with their patients.

Focus on communicating with and motivating your patient. Communication and motivation are key to any productive relationship between doctor and patient, and is particularly important with obese patients.

Read more on the EASO website.


Healthy Hydration Working Group: Infographics Published

EASO Hydration TipsThe EASO Healthy Hydration Working Group is pleased to make available two infographics, explaining the importance of drinking water as a healthy choice, and providing tips to help improve consumption. These infographics have been prepared for the General Public and for Healthcare Practitioners (HCPs).

Translated versions are available via selected EASO Member Associations.


2016 EASO Awards: Applications process now open!

The 2016 EASO Awards application process is now open, with an entry deadline of 15 January 2016. The following EASO awards will be presented at EOS2016, EASO’s 2016 European Obesity Summit:

  • EASO New Investigator Awards (Basic Science, Clinical Research, Public Health and Childhood Obesity Research)
  • EASO New Investigators United Best Thesis Award
  • EASO Travel Grants

Download the 2016 Awards Criteria document for guidance, and use the 2016 EASO Awards Application Form to submit your application.


New Investigators United Spotlight: Sonia García Calzón

IMG_2244_2Meet the 2015 EASO ‘NIU Best Thesis’ prize winner!

I was born in 1986 in Logroño, a small city located in the North of Spain. Maybe you have heard of Logroño; it is famous for lovely Rioja wine. When I was 18 I moved to Pamplona to begin University studies in Pharmacy, Nutrition and Dietetics at the University of Navarra.

Read more on the EASO website.

EASO President Hermann Toplak

After graduating as an M.D. from the University of Graz in 1984, Dr. Hermann Toplak went into military training in aeromedicine before becoming a resident in Laboratory Medicine at the Metabolism Unit of the Department of Paediatrics at the University of Graz.

He then became a resident in Surgery and Internal Medicine in the General Hospital of Rottenmann, Austria as well as the Metabolism Unit of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Berne, Switzerland. He has worked in the department of Medicine at the Karl-Franzens-University, Graz since 1988 and in 1990 he became Head of the Metabolism Unit.

Since October 1997, he has also been Specialist in Endocrinology and Metabolism and Associate Professor of Medicine. Dr. Toplak is in charge of the entire Medical Curriculum in internal medicine at the Medical University, Graz.

Hermann Toplak is a member of various national and international associations such as the Austrian Obesity Association, where he was President from 1997-2000, and has been Vice President (President-elect) since 2010, of the Austrian Diabetic Association, where he has been a Council Member since 2005. Since 2001 he has been the Austrian representative on the General Council of IASO (now called World Obesity) where he is also involved with the Education Management Task Force, and since 2009 he has been the Secretary of EASO and is a member of the Obesity Management Task Force.

Hermann, we would love to learn more about Austria and the area you live in:

Austria is a quite small country – about the size of as Bavaria, one of the federal countries of Germany – and has about 8 million inhabitants, around 10% of the size of the German population.

Austria is a country with both a long-standing culture and tradition and modern architecture. My home city, Graz, with about 300,000 inhabitants, has the largest preserved old town in Europe and has been designated by UNESCO as a focal point of design and culture in Central and Southeastern Europe. The mixture of old and new shows the influences of Italian culture (we are south of the alps) and can be felt in the open and friendly atmosphere. People enjoy the less stressful pace of life here.

I understand you have a unique talent and an interesting hobby. Please share a few of your favourite activities, hobbies:

When I was young I did best academically in natural scientific fields like physics, mathematics and chemistry. At the same time I started to sing, first in a boys’ choir and then in choirs principally performing church music, with pieces ranging from Rennaissance to modern music. During the past few years I have performed with a small Renaissance choir, performing a cappella pieces Palestrina, Vittorio, William Byrd and Thomas Tallis (whom I personally like very much). My other hobbies are biking, which I do almost daily, hiking, and cross country skiing (also known as alpine skiing). I also enjoy fine dining.

We are interested in learning more about the development of your professional interests:

When beginning my career, I came to study medicine with the aim of better understanding chemical, biochemical and physiologic processes and their pathologies. I have done a lot of work in basic science and working to uncover inborn errors of metabolism. Laterly I turned to diabetology and lipidology and finally, to obesity. We founded the first university obesity clinic in Austria in 1992 and have now more than 20 years of experience in this field.

In our culture, many people believed obesity was an unimportant condition. It was not until 1997 that we could finally found an Obesity Society, with 6 founding members. Today our society has about 200 members and is very active. We have increasingly tried to professionalize our work year by year, and broaden our view to include a range of multisectoral stakeholders, from patient to social insurance and health policy.

Hermann, what are the principal objectives you have identified for your presidency of EASO?

The main objective of my work is to bring high quality scientifically based treatment strategies to a as many people as possible throughout Europe and neighbouring countries. I see that many countries are very close to the European education system, even if they are outside Europe. We feel responsible to them also, especially in times when migrants from some of these regions come in huge numbers to Europe. I am always an advocate of person-centered medicine and try to integrate psychosocial thinking into our disease management strategies. I am also trying to reduce stigmatisation of patients with obesity which seems to be a challenging undertaking.

Anticipation is building for the upcoming 2016 European Obesity Summit. Please tell us about your vision for the Summit in June.

This is leads us directly to the question about the first European Obesity Summit in Gothenburg next year (2016). We have learned that all physicians and other health professionals must co-operate in developing an integrated multidisciplinary treatment of patients with obesity. Thus it is logical that we will endeavour to share information, science and strategies with one another. There is a lot to do, but I feel it is absolutely necessary. This meeting is a “trial balloon“ and we will see how it works and how/if we can further develop that.

Do we need more research on obesogenic environments?

The EU-funded SPOTLIGHT project and the World Obesity Federation are hosting a one-day meeting in Brussels on the future of research on obesogenic environments.  There is no charge to attend the meeting but spaces are limited.

Spotlight November 19 programme (PDF)

More information and registration details can be viewed online and more information about the SPOTLIGHT project is available on their website.