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Changing perspectives on obesity

By Ms Niamh Arthurs - 16th Apr 2023

world obesity day

Ms Niamh Arthurs writes that the 30th European Congress on Obesity, which takes place in Dublin next month, will showcase the recent strides Ireland has made in obesity research and healthcare 

World Obesity Day 2023 took place on Saturday 4 March. The Association for the Study of Obesity on the Island of Ireland (ASOI: https://asoi.info/) and the Irish Coalition for People Living with Obesity (ICPO: https://icpobesity.org/) collaborated yet again for the worldwide campaign to raise awareness and reduce obesity stigma. The theme this year was ‘Changing perspectives: Let’s talk about obesity’. This global campaign uses conversation and stories to help people correct misconceptions surrounding obesity, acknowledge its complexities, and take effective, collective action.

Ms Bernie Walsh from the ICPO stated: “Ignoring the reality of obesity as a disease contributes to stigma, shame, stress and worsening health. I couldn’t ignore the reality of obesity as I was living with it, and still do, and all the barriers it brings daily. Worsening health only improved directly with treatment and help from both professionals and peer support. Sharing our lived experiences with campaigns such as World Obesity Day and congresses helps us in addressing obesity together.”

Developments

Amidst the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic, great strides have been made in Ireland to improve health service delivery for those with obesity across the country. In 2021, the launch of the HSE model of care for the management of overweight and obesity was a vital first step in recognising the need for services at all levels of care to support the effective treatment of obesity nationally. In 2022, and in conjunction with the HSE national clinical programme for obesity, the ASOI and the ICPO led the publication of clinical practice guidelines (CPGs) for the management of obesity in adults in Ireland. Adapted from the internationally renowned work of Obesity Canada, the CPGs were written in collaboration with over 70 specialists and people with the lived experience of obesity in Ireland.

According to Dr Cathy Breen, Chair of the ASOI and project coordinator on the CPG adaptation: “The new CPGs shift the focus from a diagnosis based exclusively on body size to a health-linked diagnosis of obesity and a shift in the goals of management from weight change alone, to patient-centred health outcomes, functional outcomes, and social and economic wellbeing. We were really privileged in Ireland to have the opportunity as the first country in Europe to adapt the CPGs as they summarise the most up-to-date research in obesity and, in conjunction with the model of care, mark a huge step forward in the development of high quality, non-stigmatising healthcare, and will set the bar for the standard of care for adults with obesity in Ireland.”

Further information and links to the published guidelines are available at: https://asoi.info/guidelines/.

The new clinical practice guidelines support the World Health Organisation recognition of obesity as a chronic disease, defined by excess or dysfunctional adiposity impairing health.

ASOI committee member and GP who specialises in obesity, Dr Michael Crotty, explained: “Our understanding of obesity has improved substantially in recent years, and we now understand that obesity must be treated as a lifelong disease, as we do with other chronic diseases. However, despite our increased knowledge of this disease, people living with obesity continue to experience weight bias and stigma in society and in healthcare settings, with significant negative effects on their psychological and physical health. Weight stigma arises from the narrative that obesity is caused by a lack of willpower. We hope that collaborative efforts and events, such as the 30th European Congress on Obesity (ECO), will help to change this outdated and incorrect narrative.”

ECO

The ASOI and the ICPO are currently preparing to host the 30th ECO at the Convention Centre in Dublin next month. This four-day meeting will bring together policymakers, academics, researchers, health professionals, students and people with the lived experience of obesity from across the world. It is a significant opportunity to showcase the strides which Ireland has made in obesity research and healthcare in recent years.

Dr Grace O’Malley, Chair of the Dublin ECO meeting in May, highlighted the significance for Ireland of winning the bid to host the congress.

“Dublin is viewed around the world as a fun and friendly destination with unique and vibrant aspects of culture,” Dr O’Malley said.

“The ASOI and the European Association for the Study of Obesity are delighted to host the 30th European Congress on Obesity in this knowledge capital of Ireland from 17-20 May 2023 in the Dublin Convention Centre. The congress involves four dynamic days of science, knowledge sharing, networking, and building positive relations between those working in healthcare, research, public health, advocacy, and policy relating to obesity.”

In addition to the developments already referenced, Dr O’Malley also noted the Sláintecare and Healthy Ireland childhood obesity education project.

“The ASOI is active in the support and advocacy of people with obesity and families affected by obesity,” she added.

“The ASOI has Irish representation on the European Coalition for People with Obesity and welcomes patients, families and members of the public to the congress. The ASOI extends their ‘céad míle fáilte’ to all to attend the congress and is certain that the attractiveness of the city of Dublin will allow for a successful, enjoyable and inspiring meeting this May.”

The ASOI and ICPO encourage everyone with an interest in obesity to attend the congress. Further details are available on the ECO website at: https://eco2023.org.

In today’s society, everyone knows someone with obesity. Most people really care about individuals and families affected by obesity, but not everyone knows how to approach the topic appropriately or at all. This can lead to unintentional harm, blaming, shaming, and stigmatising.

As a society, we all can play a part in learning and informing each other about obesity and help to dispel common myths and misperceptions. Whether we are involved in teaching, research, media, healthcare, policy, public health or as role models in our own communities and families. Being informed about obesity is the first step. Sharing accurate information about obesity with others follows.

To influence policymakers and generate evidence-based action to address obesity, we need to build a movement which shows that obesity is a collective issue that needs a collective response. But first, we must fully understand to avoid harm.

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