Cutting-edge lab investigates mysteries of weight loss in children and adults in Canada

McMaster University researchers say their new Energy Lab is the first in Canada focused on investigating the mysteries of weight loss in both children and adults, including why some people lose weight more easily than others and why most gain it back. weight after losing it. and how to improve the health of obese young people.

Using advanced technology, they said the lab measures the number of calories study participants burned more accurately.

“We have a lot of interesting questions that we want to address,” said Gregory Steinberg, co-director of McMaster’s Research Center on Metabolism, Obesity and Diabeteswhere the Energy Lab is located, in Hamilton, Ontario, in a telephone interview with

“We are interested in understanding the biology that explains why some people gain more weight than others, even if they eat the same thing. …. And then that could lead to potential new ways to help people with obesity maintain their weight loss.”

To lose weight, people have to increase the number of calories they burn or reduce the amount of food they eat, he explained.

Steinberg noted that people tend to regain weight after stopping appetite suppressant medications like Ozempic, since they appear to have little effect on energy burning.

“So one of the things we’re interested in is: is this due to a reduction in energy burning? And so can we potentially find ways to keep energy burning at a high level, so that people don’t gain weight again, whether they’re on medication or whether they’re on a diet or exercise program to help them lose weight? maintain that weight? loss more efficiently?

McMaster created the Energy Lab in December 2022 because researchers want to better understand the impact of burning energy on human health. While scientists have gained more knowledge about this topic by studying animals, it is more difficult to study it accurately in humans, said Dr. Katherine Morrison, a professor in McMaster’s department of pediatrics and co-director of the Metabolism, Obesity and Diabetes Research Center.


Morrison said the Energy Lab measures energy expenditure or energy burn, which is the use of energy in the body to perform bodily functions, measured in calories. He explained that the lab’s energy rooms measure the energy used to allow the body to function, the energy used for movement, and the energy used to metabolize food after eating.

Canada is home to two other energy labs, Morrison notes, although McMaster’s is unique.

“It’s the only one in Canada that focuses on both children and adults, and one of the few in the world that will study energy expenditure in children,” he said in a phone interview with

Additionally, McMaster said the Energy Lab uses “new, cutting-edge technology” to measure energy expenditure that improves the accuracy and precision of the assessments.

People use oxygen to burn calories and produce carbon dioxide as a byproduct of energy use, Steinberg said.

“And therefore, the more oxygen you use, the more CO2 you produce and the more calories you burn,” he explained.

“So one of the things we’re really interested in studying is why people’s calorie burn changes when they lose weight.”

A unique sensor measures the amount of oxygen a person uses and the amount of carbon dioxide produced to calculate how much energy they use or calories they burn, Steinberg said.

The sensor allows study participants to stay in an extremely airtight room, about the size of a small bedroom, with a bed, toilet, sink and chair so it can measure the energy they burn during the night, the researchers said. Study participants can also choose to stay there for a shorter time, such as six hours.

“And we can also calculate what kind of calories they burn, whether they burn more fat or more carbohydrates,” Steinberg said.

“We are very impressed that we can actually measure people’s energy use with a level of precision and accuracy that is truly unparalleled. …We have not had this type of equipment available to measure metabolism in humans. And that is the great advance here.”


Additionally, Morrison said the lab is exploring questions such as the role of the body’s “pathways,” or mechanisms, in weight gain.

As an example, he said that when people eat something, one pathway is the process by which signals from the gut go to the brain to tell people they are full and don’t need to eat more.

“We are very interested in the pathways that contribute to how people gain weight and what happens when people engage in weight management and lose it,” he said.

“It’s a pattern that people often experience throughout their lives where they lose weight and the next time it’s even harder to do so. And that’s not because there’s something in the person’s psychology. It’s because largely because your body’s fundamental pathways have changed. And we’re trying to better understand that change.”

Almost two out of every three adults and one out of every three children and young people are overweight or obesity in Canada, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada. Morrison noted that about 80 percent of those children have health problems, many related to mental health and metabolic problems, such as prediabetes and abnormal cholesterol levels, which can contribute to long-term health problems in adulthood. . Children and adolescents also have a higher risk of developing heart attacks earlier than those who do not have obesity.

Steinberg calls obesity an “epidemic,” causing disease and high health care costs, as well as being a major risk factor for diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, and many types of cancer.

For their first study, Morrison and his team are measuring how children ages nine to 17 burn energy, how many calories they burn during the day, and the connections between energy burning and health.

The Energy Lab will conduct a separate study in adults starting this year to examine how anti-obesity drugs like Ozempic influence energy burning.

Morrison, a physician and pediatrician, works with obese children in her clinic at McMaster Children’s Hospital. She and other Energy Lab researchers hope to find solutions to common weight problems Canadians face.

“We work in a weight management environment and I see how hard these people work to… change their behaviors because we haven’t had anything else to help them,” Morrison said. “And a very large proportion of these children have health problems associated with gaining weight easily, so my task… is to try to find the best ways to help them.”

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