Dr Arya Sharma on Training General Practice Physicians (GPs) in Obesity Management and Care

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Dr Sharma, thank you for taking the time to speak with EASO about the importance of providing high-quality obesity training to general practitioners and other health professionals.

By way of background, what is the conventional education and training pathway for a general (non-specialist) medical doctor in obesity science and obesity medicine?

In general it is fair to say that health professionals receive minimal training in obesity assessment and management during their graduate education or residency. Most health professionals working in obesity have gained experience and expertise through their interest in the subject. There currently is no specific path for training in obesity medicine. In the US, physicians can take the American Board of Obesity Medicine exam, but this credential is not officially recognised by the respective obesity colleges. There are also a number of certification programs such as the SCOPE program offered to clinicians by the World Obesity Federation. Again, all of these are voluntary and not required credentials.

This sounds like woefully inadequate training, particularly now that we see obesity prevalence increasing dramatically globally.

Yes, if we compare the knowledge and expertise that we expect of health practitioners in other diseases areas such as type 2 diabetes or hypertension, current training in obesity management comes nowhere close. This is clearly a problem given that every health professional today can expect to see patients with obesity and related health problems in their practice. 

Would providing more education and quality training to practitioners help address the obesity stigma many patients experience in medical settings?

There is indeed considerable research showing that weight-bias and obesity stigma is highly prevalent amongst health professionals. This is generally based on the rather simplistic notion that obesity is largely caused by “unhealthy” lifestyles and can be prevented or managed simply by will power. This widely held misconception about obesity directly explains the “shame & blame” and largely ineffective “eat-less-move-more” approach to managing patients with obesity.

mdBriefcase provides a global training platform for general practitioners and HCPs and is relatively new to Europe. Professor Sharma is one of the highly regarded international speakers presenting in the series.

Can you tell us a bit about the history and aims of the series?

Health practitioners are busy and making online learning accessible to them in a format that is both easy to follow and available to them at their own pace and convenience is essential if we expect them to take on a new topic as complex as obesity. With the increasing understanding of the complex neurobiology of obesity but also with the recent progress in new treatment options including medications and bariatric surgery, it is essential that practitioners educate themselves on the best obesity management that they can provide to their patients. 

Dr Sharma, can you discuss the significance of the mdBriefcase educational series for general medical practitioners?

The mdBriefcase educational series is based on the best available evidence on obesity assessment and management compiled and endorsed by leaders in the field. However, recognising the somewhat different circumstances and availability of different treatments across countries, it has been adapted to different regions of the world through contributions and validations by local experts. 

What are your top “takeaways” for medical professionals from the series?

The top “takeaways” for all health professionals is that obesity has to be addressed and managed as any other chronic disease with long-term care plans that include patient education, self-management, and regular follow-up. This is outlined in the 5As approach to obesity management.  It is also important to consider individual drivers, barriers and co-morbidities that can vary considerably between individual patients. 

We share the KTS throughout our networks, I guess you would agree that it is important to share this information with as many clinicians as possible?

Given the increasing global prevalence of obesity, it is crucial that all health professionals have at least a basic understanding of the complex socio-psycho-biology of obesity and current treatment approaches. It is also important that all health professionals are aware of the harms of stigmatization and discrimination that people living with obesity regularly face in healthcare settings and consider the impact of how their own misconceptions and beliefs about obesity can negatively affect their patients. With this new knowledge all health professional should be better able to provide empathic and evidence-based care to people living with this chronic disease. 

Dr. Arya M. Sharma, MD/PhD, FRCPC is Professor of Medicine at the University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada. He is also the Clinical Co-Chair of the Alberta Health Services Obesity Program.

Dr. Sharma is founder and Scientific Director of the Canadian Obesity Network, a network of over 10,000 obesity researchers, health professionals and other stakeholders.

He is also the Past-President of the Canadian Association of Bariatric Physicians and Surgeons.

His past appointments include positions as Professor of Medicine and Canada Research Chair (Tier 1) at McMaster University (2002-2007), Professor of Medicine at the Franz- Volhard Klinik – Charité, Humboldt University Berlin (2000-2002) and the Free University of Berlin (1994-2000). His research focuses on the evidence-based prevention and management of obesity and its complications.

A leading voice in obesity science and medicine, Dr Sharma has authored and co- authored more than 400 scientific articles and has lectured widely on the etiology and management of obesity and related cardiovascular disorders. Dr. Sharma is regularly featured as a medical expert in national and international TV and print media and maintains a widely read obesity blog at www.drsharma.ca.

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