We are pleased to meet with Dr. Tryggvi Helgason, Vice President of the EASO Northern Region, who is a pediatrician and clinical researcher specializing in childhood obesity. Tryggvi is also President of the Icelandic Association for the Study of Obesity, He has dedicated his career to helping families and children develop healthier lifestyles in an obesogenic environment. He has extensive experience working with families affected by childhood obesity and has developed a deep understanding of obesity and its impact on children and families. As a strong advocate of obesity prevention, he is committed to identifying solutions which can help reduce the prevalence of obesity in children and adults. Dr. Helgason's current research interests focus on the background, treatments, and future consequences of childhood obesity in Iceland. He is also working to identify and implement preventive measures on a societal level to reduce the number of children and adults developing obesity in the future. His work is making a significant contribution to addressing childhood obesity in Iceland and across Europe.
Tryggvi, thank you for taking the time to meet with me today. I’m especially interested in introducing you to the wider EASO community and in learning more your work since you became VP of the Northern region and about obesity management strategies in the Northern Region of EASO.
Can you please tell us a bit about yourself and your experience working in the field of obesity management?
I am a pediatrician who stumbuled upon the field of childhood obesity almost 20 years ago. I did my pediatric training in Holland, where treatment of children with obesity has a longer tradition; in the Netherlands obesity is treated as a chronic disease. Upon moving back to Iceland, I was among the group who started a clinic for children with obesity within the Children’s hospital in Iceland. Working in a new and evolving field like obesity, creates both challenges and opportunities that make every week at work a new experience.
We have now followed over 1000 families, were children with obesity have received management of their disease. . Our longest individual follow-up within the programme has been 12 years to date and counting. The longer I work in obesity management the more important I view long term follow up of our patients with obesity.
It would be great to update our members on news from the Northern Region. (Wonderful here if you can begin by mentioning the countries that comprise the Northern region – not many are aware that the region is not just about Scandinavia 🙂
The Northen region of EASO is made up of the Scandinavian countries, British Isles, Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany on the mainland of Europe, and Russia. There are different challenges in each of these countries, but they all experience drivers and social and environmental challenges that lead to increased obesity. Fortunately we are learning ways to address these challenges, and some countries have managed to slow or halt the increase in obesity rates among certain age groups. As societies continue to face challenges, both major and small which compromise human health, there will be a continued need for health care specialists as well as public health specialists to help support societal changes to help us move towards developing healthier societies. Most health authorities in the northern region will, during the next years, be faced with an increasing need for therapy and obesity management both pharmacological and other support within a multidisciplinary model of patient care, which has increasing possibilities for public health improvement. Guidance from obesity specialist will be extremely valuable to improving patient health, and hopefully the EASO community can help individual countries to develop fair and equitable care systems.
Do obesity management strategies differ country to country in the region?
Although I have only been in my VP position a few months it is clear that there are indeed differences between countries in the region. Differences in access to care and differences in availability of pharmaceutical and surgical treatments are marked.
The northern region as a whole seems to me forward thinking in accepting obesity as a treatable disease that requires long term management. Some challenges certainly still exist in educating the current pool of health care workers, but most of the regional associations in EASO are working on this education.
You’ve been Northern Regional VP for 6 months now. What key challenges and opportunities have you identified in your region so far around obesity research and clinical management?
The challenges ahead are mainly focused around education.The vast opportunities ahead in new and effective drug treatments on the horizon — both offer great opportunities, and also create challenges. In countries where over 20% of the population could possibly benefit from a particular drug, there will always be an ethical dilemma in deciding who should have access to these medications through health insurance. This will be a leading part of the discussion in the next years and it is in my mind essential that those who conduct obesity management have a leading role in the discussion.
In regard to obesity research, the region has many options to collaborate and share experiences. This will become increasingly important with the speedy development of obesity management that follows approval of new medications to support obesity management.
We look forward to welcoming the obesity community 1-3 February 2024 in Helsinki for the Nordic Obesity Meeting. Registration information and details are available here: https://easo.org/2024-nordic-obesity-meeting-call-for-abstracts/