Welcome to ECO 2023 – from EASO President Jason Halford
Jason Halford is now two years into his term as President of EASO, and is also now well-immersed in his role as Professor of Biological Psychology and Health Behaviours and Head of School at the University of Leeds, UK. He is wishing all delegates a warm welcome to Dublin and a successful and fulfilling congress.
Q: Welcome back Jason. Last year everything was a bit hectic, with us coming back to in-person meetings and you yourself in your new role. Are things a bit calmer now??!!
A: First of all Fáilte go mBaile Átha Cliath. Welcome to Dublin. Last year we had a successful joint meeting with the European surgeons with a record 1600 delegates on site. As we start our first solo ECO since the pandemic, we are looking forward to hosting 2000 at this congress, with the greatest representation of people living with obesity at our congress yet. With the introduction of new treatments and the adoption of new national guidelines nothing is standing still. Calm? No. Dynamic yes!
Q: This year is our triumphant come back to Ireland, having had to sadly move the congress online in 2020 due to the pandemic. How good is to be back here with our many Irish colleagues and delegates around the world?
A: Actually, 2023 is the ideal time to come to Ireland. The recent launch of new national guidelines for clinical practice in Ireland and the commitment from the state to fund more obesity management demonstrates how things have been progressing. Ireland has one of the most active national societies (ASOI) and vibrant group of patient advocates (ICPO) within EASO and ECPO with strong links to policy makers and active input into the national discourse on obesity. Working together, the HCPs and patient group have made a major contribution to advancing obesity diagnosis and treatment within the HSE.
The HSE runs Ireland’s public health services, including the Model of Care for Overweight and Obesity. It integrates policy, legislation, and cross-sectoral actions to promote healthy environments and prioritizes patient-centered care. The specialist obesity services model is a key component of the Healthy Weight for Ireland Obesity Policy and Action Plan 2017-2025.
Having spent a couple of days in city now, I have become aware how much the Irish public are aware of the issue of obesity in Ireland and the urgent need to address it. It is great to gain perspective on their experience. The ECO brings in Europe-wide and international expertise as well, we will host joint sessions with IFSO, ESE, ESPEN, EFAD, ESC, Obesity Canada, and other partner societies. In a continuation of European Hormone Day, we host a key joint session with the European Society of Endocrinology to address the vital topic of hormone disruptors and their impact on obesity. We are pleased to once again welcome colleagues from the WHO, with whom EASO is in formal relations. We are delighted to welcome our Korean colleagues from KSSO for our first joint session at an ECO.
Q: There has a been a much more intense focus on drugs to treat obesity in the media since our 2022 meeting – what do you think is behind this surge in interest?
A: With increasing availability of the GLP-1 anologue semaglutide, more phase 3 data on the glucose-dependent insulinotropic polypeptide (GIP) and GLP-1 receptor agonist tirzepatide, there is great excitement in the field of clinical obesity management. These are the first of a new generation of pharmacotherapy, which has, in past failed to deliver safe and effective anti-obesity drugs.
Certainly, the reported effects of these drugs on appetite, energy intake and body weight, are of a much greater magnitude than predecessors. And this has caused great excitement across media and social media, and a backlash from some who fear pharmacotherapies are drawing attention away from other approaches, and from important and much needed public health initiatives. The narrative and imagery around this push-back, have often been stigmatising, and the talk of ‘fat-jabs’ misses the point. These are new evidence-based tools, intended as an element of comprehensive and well-supported weight management programs.
There are marked individual differences in response to pharmacotherapy, and drugs will not be appropriate for everyone. Moreover, they should not be available outside professional weight management services. But still exciting times.
Q: Our congress as usual contains a very diverse set of studies and researchers from all over the world. What are some of the sessions and topics that have caught your eye?
A: Congresses are busy times and I don’t have the opportunity to see all the sessions I would like to. As usual I will be attending the sessions on Psychology, Behaviour and Mental Health, and look forward to chairing the workshop Wednesday morning. We have four strong tracks across this congress, and it was a joy to be part of planning them. The the invited symposia this year are particularly strong. My personal highlights include:
Wednesday: 10am EASO Psychology, Behaviour & Mental Health Working Group, 12.30pm Accepted Symposium: Integrating the patients’ perspective in obesity care: using patient-reported outcome measures in clinical practices, research and registries, 14.15pm EASO/WHO Session: Reducing the impact of digital marketing of foods to children and adolescents and 17.45 Opening Plenary Session. Obesity and inequality: where are we and how should we proceed?
Thursday: 10am EASO/KSSO Joint Session: Digital Therapeutics and Big Data, 12.30pm EASO-Novo Nordisk Foundation New Investigator Awards Session. 15.00pm EASO-Novo Nordisk Foundation Obesity Prize for Excellence and 16.15pm EASO Early Career Network Best Thesis Award
Friday: 9.30am Topic Session T2: Commercial Determinants of Health, 9.30am Topic Session T4: Mental Health and Obesity, 15.00pm Plenary Lecture T3: Adolescent Health and Obesity and 16.15pm Food marketing and young people: Monitoring methodologies, challenges and novel perspectives. A joint session from the EASO Childhood Obesity and Public Health Taskforces.
Saturday: 8.30am Plenary Session T4: The future of obesity management: accessing and delivering chronic care for obesity, 9.30am Topic Session T2: Digital Media, Mental Health and Stigma 9.30am Accepted Symposium: How is obesity in children and adolescents treated in the real-world?: case-based examples from five health systems and 11.30am Topic Session T3: Socioeconomic Position.
Q: Are you presenting any research yourself at the meeting this year?
A: Yes, we look forward to presenting new ACTION-IO and new ACTION-Teens data during the congress which highlights the impact of obesity across the life course and also the impact of HCP training. Data from our EU SWEET project looks at the environmental impact of sugar replacement with alternative sweeteners. We also have data on the impact of internalized stigma on post bariatric surgical outcomes. I am looking forward to taking part in our joint session with IFSO-UK and also in the ACTION session.
Q: Media interest in obesity reaches new heights each year, evidenced by the record number of high-profile journalists attending this year. Do you believe they are now more eager to cover obesity-related stories, knowing that they will hear about some of the most compelling breaking science at the ECO?
A: Yes, there is clearly more interest in covering obesity research driven by public interest. Obesity touches most people’s lives and media reflects that. Each year media coverage of ECO grows and its media profile as a international obesity congress is unrivaled. Importantly, a wide range of science is covered across public health, psychosocial factors and the lived experience, to discovery science and the latest therapeutic advances. The physical presence of so many national and international journalists on site is essential to ensure objective, evidence-based reporting of obesity research. This is essential in informing and / or challenging the wider and often stigmatizing coverage of obesity and people living with obesity. We need to support improving the quality of reporting for obesity related issues, and we do that by engaging directly with the press.
Q: A quick word about our prize winners, who will also be included in the newsletter?
We are pleased to partner with the Novo Nordisk Foundation to award the inaugural Obesity Prize for Excellence at ECO2023 to Professor Ruth Loos, recognising this agenda-setting researcher in the field of obesity. Four early career professionals have been named New Investigator Award winners, in basic science, clinical research, childhood obesity and public health. This is the first year in a three year award partnership, and I offer all the winners my sincere congratulations.
Q: Finally, what message of welcome do you have for our delegates on this happy reunion of our congress in Dublin?
A: This is a moment when our global obesity family, including patients, advocates, practitioners, researchers, and supporters across the biomedical community can unite, provide mutual support, and inspire one another. There couldn’t be a more suitable host city for such an occasion. Throughout this week, significant national, European, and international attention will be directed towards ECO2023, where exceptional work spanning public health, primary prevention, basic science, and clinical management will be showcased.
Thanks Jason, and enjoy the congress!