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Shaping the future: researcher profiles

Dr. Jean-Pierre Després: redefining high-risk obesity
Dr. Jean-Pierre Després is recognized worldwide for his work on abdominal obesity and cardiovascular health risks. Currently associated with the Laval Hospital Research Centre ( in Quebec City, he proudly notes that the concept he began working on 25 years ago – abdominal obesity – has become one of the most pressing public health issues of the 21st century!
  • Doctorate in exercise physiology, Laval University, 1984
  • Post-doctoral studies, University of Toronto, Department of Medicine, 1984-1986
  • Researcher and Quebec Health Research Fund bursary recipient, Laval University, 1986-1991
  • Science director, International Chair on Cardiometabolic Risk, Laval University, 2005-present
  • Over 450 scientific publications and 45 book chapters
  • Recipient of numerous national and international awards

Dr. Després and his team’s initial findings in the area of abdominal obesity were published in the late 1980s and remain among the most widely cited in the world. “We were hailed as pioneers at the time, but the concept we developed has since become internationally widespread. And I’m quite proud of the fact that our discoveries were made right here in Quebec City,” says Dr. Després, scientific director of Laval University’s International Chair on Cardiometabolic Risk, in which the Sanofi Aventis group has invested more than $7.5 million. He is also a professor in the kinesiology division of Laval University’s Social and Preventive Medicine Department, in addition to being a member of the Merck-Frosst/IRSC Research Chair on Obesity, the first of its kind in Canada.

After completing his studies, this self-proclaimed “dyed-in-the-wool Quebecer” and Montmagny native had a special dream: to return to Quebec City for the purpose of developing and promoting obesity research. His dream became a reality in 1986 and he hasn’t looked back since!

“Together with Laval Hospital and Laval University, we have built a truly fine team. In many sectors of the economy, Quebec City is taking on a well-deserved leadership role. So I hope I’m doing my part,” he says.

In fact, Dr. Després’s dream has come true in more ways than one. “We have gained an excellent reputation in our field,” he notes. “We’re asked to speak at conferences around the world, in addition to exporting our concepts to the US, Europe, Australia and Asia.”

Innovative project

In their pioneering work, Dr. Després and his team demonstrated that having excessive abdominal fat – aka a “beer belly” – is detrimental to cardiovascular health. They also showed that fat stored in the abdominal cavity produces substances that are toxic for the organism itself.

Drawing inspiration from this success, Dr. Després hopes to help create a multi-disciplinary research centre focusing on cardiovascular disease prevention and abdominal obesity treatment.

This multi-disciplinary cardiovascular health platform would seek to enhance prevention efforts and provide effective patient follow-up. Dr. Després and Dr. Paul Poirier, a cardiologist and medical director of Laval Hospital’s Cardiac Disease Prevention Pavilion (PPMC) in Quebec City, together with a number of other institutional colleagues, subsequently developed an innovative project aimed at achieving this goal.

The project, known as Synergie, has attracted the attention of specialists worldwide. “We are providing sedentary individuals with personalized consultations with a nutritionist and a kinesiologist designed to gradually modify their eating and exercise habits over the long term,” explains Dr. Després.

The figures speak for themselves: more than 80% of Synergie participants lost seven kilos and nine centimetres in waist circumference after one year and maintained these results over a three-year period. Their health profiles also showed marked improvement.

“We’re not aiming to turn these people into marathon runners, but rather to get them to change their habits by offering them support. According to our calculations, the cost of the program works out to $1,000 per person per year – much cheaper than treating diabetes and abdominal obesity complications.”

International standard of excellence

Dr. Després and his team have also launched an educational website on abdominal obesity management and prevention (, which is visited by people from nearly 100 different countries.

“A number of countries are interested in what we’re doing here in Quebec City, not only because we have an excellent reputation, but because they’re facing major obesity problems of their own. If would be wonderful if we could all take preventive action and avoid saddling our grandchildren with an exorbitant healthcare bill.”

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