Dr Nathalie Farpour-Lambert, paediatrician, child obesity expert and head of the Obesity Prevention and Care Program Contrepoids, University Hospitals of Geneva, Switzerland, became the new President of the European Association for Study of Obesity (EASO) during ECO2018.
We are delighted to have a conversation with our new President. Congratulations Nathalie on beginning your post as President of the European Association for the Study of Obesity. Your election is notable.
Yes, I am honoured to be the first paediatrician nominated to be President of EASO. As childhood obesity is a crucial global health issue, I hope that my expertise in the field will contribute to EASO efforts in tackling this global epidemic.
How do you first become involved in the field of obesity?
I graduated in 1994 at the University of Geneva and specialised in Paediatrics at the Geneva University Hospitals in Switzerland. Between 1998 and 2001, I did a post-graduate training in Paediatric Exercise Science and Sports Medicine in Sydney, Australia. As childhood obesity was rapidly becoming an important public health concern in Australia, as well as in Europe, I decided to specialise in this field. Upon my return to Geneva, I developed a Paediatric Obesity Clinic and a clinical research program in childhood obesity, and was nominated in 2007 as Head of the Obesity Prevention and Care Program “Contrepoids” at University Hospitals, Geneva. The objectives of this programme are promotion of education, research and providing treatment for patients with obesity; there is also a primary prevention focus. More recently, I completed a Masters of Science in Global Health Policy at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, University of London and now stand as an expert for the European Commission and the World Health Organisation. Ten years ago, I was invited to join the EASO Childhood Obesity Task Force (COTF) and after 3 years became the chair. I am delighted to have been elected as President.
You are a paediatrician; how does this role inform your view of obesity in Europe?
There is increasing evidence that childhood obesity lays the foundation for developing several non-communicable diseases, including cardiovascular diseases and type 2 diabetes. In addition, maternal obesity before conception and excessive weight gain during pregnancy are associated with major maternal and faetal complications, as well as with the early development of childhood obesity. Along with the COTF I see that there is an urgent need for interventions at the family, healthcare service provision, community and societal levels.
The latest data from around Europe shows at best child obesity may be stabilising in some countries, while in others it continues to rise. Can we be satisfied with ‘levelling off’ of the increase, is there anything countries can do to drive child obesity rates down?
New data from the Childhood Obesity Surveillance Initiative (COSI) in the European region show that the prevalence of overweight remains at levels over 20% in the majority of countries. Cyprus, Greece, Spain and Italy maintain rates above 40%. As childhood obesity is a complex multifactorial disease, we take a systemic, rather than an individual approach when looking at this health challenge. Countries across Europe should promote consumption of healthy food and physical activity from the early years, improvements in preconception health promotion and pregnancy care, as well as weight management for children who are overweight are all elements that will contribute to national health. Various cross-sector actions should be undertaken to tackle obesity.
What are your thoughts on sugar taxes, such as the one just introduced in the UK?
Sugar taxes are often limited to products such as beverages, however unhealthy levels of sugar are found in a wide range of product categories and sugar is not the only nutrient of concern. Saturated fat and salt, and alcohol consumption among adults, are also issues of concern and should also be discussed. In addition, increasing the access to healthy foods in disadvantaged communities, reducing the exposure of children and adolescents to the marketing of unhealthy foods, using front-of-pack information and creating healthy food environments (for example product placement of less healthy foods in supermarkets) are urgently needed across Europe. Children have the right to be protected from commercial exploitation.
What do you think are the main challenges facing countries regarding obesity levels? Do you believe any country in Europe is taking effective action at this stage?
Obesity and obesity-related diseases place a major strain on healthcare systems, both immediately and in terms of future health concerns. This has an impact not only on individuals but also on society as a whole; this ultimately impacts national economic growth. Very few countries in Europe are prioritising obesity in their national health strategies. Some have, however, developed comprehensive approaches to prevention, including as France, Switzerland or the Netherlands.
Do you find it frustrating that we don’t have more drugs to treat obesity?
Obesity must be recognised as a manageable chronic disease in children and adults, as are diabetes, asthma or arthritis. However, treatment options are limited and there has been insufficient investment in innovative medicines to treat obesity.
Please tell us about your plans for EASO and the ECO as President. The European Congress on Obesity continues to increase in popularity. How can momentum from the congress be used to help drive change?
We have now streamlined and clarified our objectives, which inform all of our activities in education, research and policy. In addition to our annual European Congress of Obesity, we are currently extending and expanding EASO educational activities (live courses, residential teaching courses, national training courses, stakeholder courses, media master classes, Centres of Obesity Management Exchange and Mentoring Program, E-learning, toolkits and other resources). We are working toward creating topic-specific interest groups and developing a European network of health care professionals and researchers. Several guidelines and position statements in public health, and on childhood and adult obesity management, including pregnant and postpartum women with obesity, will be developed and shared with the European and global obesity communities. We would also like to invite more parents with children to join our EASO European Patient Council and we will continue our efforts to tackle weight bias. We will also lead on informing and influencing policymakers and other multi-sectoral European change agents through efforts which include European Obesity Day promotional activities and the annual EASO European Obesity Policy Conference.