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Addressing obesity together in Ireland this World Obesity Day

Photo Credit: World Obesity Federation

Thursday 4 March 2021 marks World Obesity Day. This is a day dedicated to increasing awareness of the root causes of obesity and improving understanding of the actions required to address them. It is a day for encouraging advocacy in order to address the common perceptions in society that drive unfair weight bias and stigma and make it even more difficult for individuals and families affected by obesity to receive proper clinical care and access to treatment. This is a day that encourages collaboration across stakeholders, policy makers, healthcare professionals, individuals affected by obesity and society as a whole. By working together, knowledge and experiences can be shared to drive policy improvements and stipulate change that ultimately prioritise obesity as a health issue and enable more supportive environments and better care to be developed.

Following marked success of ECOICO 2020, which was a European and international four-day event co-hosted by the Association for the Study of Obesity on the Island of Ireland (ASOI) in September 2020, the ASOI along with the Irish Coalition for People Living with Obesity (ICPO) are continuing to work together and call for implementation of the Obesity Action Plan. ASOI and ICPO will mark World Obesity Day on Thursday 4 March by hosting an online event. With the theme “Addressing Obesity Together” this collaboration of healthcare professionals, researchers and people living with this chronic relapsing disease, is an opportunity for everyone to join and learn about working together in Ireland towards achieving a more informed and just society which will enable happier, healthier and longer lives for everybody. Please Register Here

Ms Bernadette Keenan of the Irish Coalition for People Living with Obesity (ICPO) states:

“Our World Obesity Day Ireland event is seeing healthcare professionals, multi-disciplinary weight management services, researchers, medical and other allied health professional students, and people living with obesity themselves coming together to raise awareness of how important ‘Addressing Obesity Together’ really is. Sharing the patient experience is done so in the hope to reduce stigma and also educate that obesity is a disease which needs ongoing treatment and care”.

 The Covid-19 pandemic has amplified stigmatising and controversial thoughts on obesity which further drives the common but incorrect public narrative of “eat less and move more” as the main way to treat obesity. This public shaming and blaming heightened by the use of inappropriate imagery, dramatic headlines and inaccurate statements is extremely distressing and damaging to those affected by obesity and reduces the likelihood of people receiving the care and treatment needed. It is a vicious cycle which needs to end.

Dr Jean O’Connell, Chair of ASOI, comments:  “People living with obesity have an increased risk of severe illness with Covid-19. In addition, the pandemic restrictions have contributed to significant mental health challenges for people with obesity, who were already experiencing high levels of social exclusion and isolation prior to Covid-19. These combined physical and psychological vulnerabilities have highlighted the need for a proactive approach to treatment of obesity in Ireland. We need to stop being influenced by food and diet industry vested interests, and start practicing evidence-based medicine, as we do for other chronic diseases. We need to see cross-governmental support and funding for full implementation of the newly launched Model of Care for Obesity Management in Ireland. This includes equal and timely access to accredited multi-disciplinary community and bariatric surgery centres, and reimbursement for medications proven to support weight loss interventions”.

In addition, the Childhood Obesity Education project funded by Sláintecare will be launched on World Obesity Day 2021. A new study led by Dr Grace O’Malley from RCSI and Children’s Health Ireland at Temple Street has successfully developed this childhood obesity education course for health professionals in Ireland. This project will empower doctors, nurses, dietitians, physiotherapists and others to help and support families who ask for help related to obesity in a child or adolescent. This will offer a world-class obesity training initiative to health professionals in Ireland for the first time.

Dr O’Malley comments: “National and international policies highlight the current gap related to obesity in health professional education. This means that doctors, nurses, dietitians, physiotherapists and other professionals around the country have received little or no training in child and adolescent obesity. It’s estimated that around 80,000 children in Ireland have clinical obesity which can negatively impact health in childhood and into adulthood, so it’s vital that all health professionals know how to support and help children coming forward for treatment. Parents try really hard to help their children and to understand why one child in a family may develop obesity. Obesity in children can cause many health problems and on top of this children with obesity are teased and bullied. When parents bring their child to a health professional for help they need support, understanding and empathy but sometimes health professionals lack training in this area or lack confidence. Ultimately, this is about helping children to be healthier, but the first step has to start with training our health professionals”.  Please see www.childhoodobesity.ie for details.

Please register for the ICPO and ASOI World Obesity Day online event here: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/J9NKV5Q

Niamh Arthurs (BSc, MSc) is an ASOI Committee Member and Registered Dietitian and Researcher in Child and Adolescent Obesity

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