EASO Patient Council: April 2015

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This month we introduce Patient Council member Judit Pettkó

Please tell us who tell us you are:

My name is Judit Pettkó and I have lived in Budapest, Hungary since I was born. I grew up in a downtown flat and about 15 years ago I moved into a family home. Shortly after receiving a masters degree in chemical engineering, I started working with a pharmaceutical company. As a Regulatory Affairs Associate for nearly 20 years, I have been dealing with preparation of the documentation required for Authority approval of our medicines and the maintenance of these licenses. Although my work is interesting and multifarious, it has meant at least eight hours sitting at my computer daily, a major factor in my development of disease often associated with sitting, which has had a significant impact on my weight.

Please share a few of your favourite things (activities, hobbies, interests):

One of my favourite hobbies is reading. I read almost every evening and whenever I have a little free time. My other love is swimming. Since childhood, I have enjoyed swimming, which became my sport as I was unable to successfully engage in other childhood sports. I am lucky enough now to have two swimming pools in my neighbourhood so I have easy pool access, and in summer the beach also offers plenty of opportunities to swim. In addition, I really like to take short hikes in the hills. Last year, my knees become diseased, so unfortunately I cannot hike presently, but I have taken short and longer hikes at least once a month in previous years. In 2013, I hiked the twelve kilometres all the way up to the second highest point in Hungary, which has an altitude of 600metres!

Share what your experience of obesity has been like:

My obesity is the result, I believe, of several combined factors. Firstly, my genetic background and early childhood environment must have been key factors, as I have been overweight since I was very young. My parents paid attention to my eating, and insofar as they could, supported me to engage in sporting activities too. This seems to suggest a genetic predisposition to obesity.
On the other hand, I’m also obese due to bad eating habits. I eat with pleasure and joy, which would not be a problem if I could remain moderate, but unfortunately in stressful situations and sometimes when I am simply bored, I overeat, without regard for the consequences of this behaviour.
Third, but not least, my relatively sedentary lifestyle also plays a role in my obesity.

As a small child, I did not move regularly (with the exception of swimming lessons). Later, due to my overweight, gym classes at school left me with feelings of failure. I was in a “sport class” between 9-14 years old, but it did not help, and left me feeling quite discouraged. Since I work, I try to exercise at least twice a week (usually with major or minor interruptions). I also try to swim or make excursions to the hills whenever I can, but these activities are rarely able to compensate for the daily lack of movement in my typically sedentary life.

I’ve tried several times to reduce my weight, and have twice succeeded in losing significant amounts of weight. In these cases, I have changed my entire lifestyle, shifting from doing occasional exercise to committing to regular everyday sport and activity. I walked at least half an hour (alongside a creek not far from my house) and my diet was carefully selected, with restricted calories as well. I received medical assistance too; every two weeks my condition was evaluated and I consulted with a private obesitologist. Unfortunately, initial “successful” weight loss results disappeared and challenging personal circumstances derailed my efforts. The construction of my house almost failed, after having expended all our savings, and we had to take an extra loan in order to make it habitable.

Ten years later, I decided to take control over my life and weight again. I thought that this second successful weight loss and lifestyle change would be the final one. Though I was still not normal weight, I was satisfied with the results. However, last year after having health problem that involved my knees, I had to stop all exercise. My knees are still recovering. Now I cannot move at all in the way I enjoy; I can’t do long distance walking or go to gym. As a result, my weight rapidly increased, which in turn exacerbates the difficulty with my knees. At present, my main goal is healing my knees in order to enable them to bear weight again. This will make it possible for me to re-start the regular sport activities which would help me to reduce my obesity.

Your reflection on the ECO2014 and hopes for the ECO2015:

Before the Patient Council Meeting in Sofia, I was looking forward to learning about options for an overweight or obese person in other countries. I wondered, for instance, what kind of public or NGO assistance is available or provided to those individuals who are determined to reduce their body weight and about differences in social status of people affected by obesity in different nations: are they discriminated against or accepted?

I found the meeting in Sofia very interesting and instructive. The Congress provided lessons for a lifetime through learning about the experiences of people in the other countries represented. This led me to recognise that although public healthcare is different across European countries, our problems are similar. The meeting confirmed my belief that we overweight and obese persons have to take action together and represent our special needs to healthcare professionals and policy makers alike.

I am looking forward to this year’s summit in Prague too, as I hope that we will issue a Declaration in order to encourage national healthcare systems to pay more attention to our special needs, and to provide the necessary support to all those who want to reduce their weight and manage obesity-related health problems.

About your county and where you live:

The overweight or obese are in quite difficult situation in Hungary. In everyday life, an overweight person can experience discrimination such as during job searches and at work, where one can be at a disadvantage because of overweight or obesity, even in instances where the condition does not have a direct affect on your work. On the other hand, development and provision of medical support is still in early stages. There are only few public centres dedicated to the treatment of overweight and obesity, and in these centres relatively limited tools are available for physicians and other professionals.

I would like to emphasise that GPs and other physicians in primary care have limited knowledge about publicly supported treatments and therapies, so only a small subset of patients will receive sufficient advice on treatment options.

In private medical care the situation is better, but this is accessible to a limited number of patients only.

In order to disseminate results of studies and research in obesity, the Hungarian Society for the Study of Obesity regularly holds conferences and workshops. The HSSO will host the 5th Central European Congress on Obesity (CECON) in Budapest in October.

How you currently advocate for patients and hope to advocate for patients in the future:

I am working with the Hungarian Association for Overweight and Obese as president. This NGO was founded in 1999. Upon further developing membership, over a few years we have grown to 300-400 active association members. In addition to the assertion of patient rights, we strive to encourage and provide regular exercise for members, while professionals who help manage patients’ conditions give presentations about obesity to members. Due to some changes in both the healthcare system and the legal environment, the Hungarian Association for Overweight and Obese is currently under reorganisation. In addition to completing the reorganisation process, we would like to continue – along with the other tasks – providing access to sporting activities and exercise, and organising presentations for our members. The future is bright if we all work together for common goals.

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