Although it is unfortunately not possible for us to be together in person, our President Dr Nathalie Farpour-Lambert (University Hospitals Geneva, Switzerland) would like to wish all our virtual delegates a warm welcome to this year’s congress.
This will be Nathalie’s last congress as President before she hands over to Professor Jason Halford. Here she reflects on her three years in the role, the latest developments in the field of obesity and the effect the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic could have on people living with obesity (PwO) worldwide.
Q: Welcome to ECO2021 Nathalie. We were meant to be together in Malaga, Spain for this year’s congress but unfortunately the COVID-19 pandemic has forced us online for the second year. Despite this, we have a wonderful varied program as usual for our delegates. What words of welcome do you have for them this year?
A: It is my great pleasure, as the President of EASO, to welcome you to ECO2021, our 28th European Congress on Obesity. We are excited to disseminate and discuss the best obesity research and practice in Europe. ECO will include basic science, adult management, childhood obesity prevention and management, and public health tracks. All sessions will be available to watch ‘on replay’ for 3 months. I would like to thank our invited faculty, session chairs, abstract presenters, authors, sponsors, exhibitors and congress organising team for contributing to an excellent scientific programme. Thanks also to our colleagues at the WHO Regional Office for Europe for helping us to develop several joint sessions. I hope you have a lovely congress!
Q: You became President at the 2018 Vienna meeting, serving three years in the role. As you look back, what have been your highlights as EASO President?
A: With the EASO team, we are proud to have contributed to the recognition of obesity as a complex chronic relapsing disease at a European level, and also at the global level. In collaboration with the World Health Organization and partner associations, the definition of obesity has been modified in the International Classification of Disease 11th Revision (I CD-11). We have also promoted and supported the creation of the European Coalition for People Living with Obesity (ECPO). EASO has enlarged our network of accredited Collaborating Centres for Obesity Management (now more than 130 COMs), including paediatric centres, and we have developed a strong educational program for health care professionals, public health specialists, policy makers and new investigators. Finally, EASO has published several strong position statements and guidelines for the prevention or management of obesity.
I would like to thank you all for your support for EASO during my tenure.
Q: For our delegates that do not know you, you are paediatrician, a specialist in childhood obesity and in public health. How worried are you about the effect COVID-19 will have on childhood obesity prevalence both in Europe and beyond? Are the signs of unhealthy eating and less physical activity during the pandemic taking their toll on children worldwide?
A: The COVID-19 pandemic and related control measures have upended the lives of families and the education of millions of children and adolescents, resulting in profound effects on health and well-being. Due to repetitive lockdowns, daily routines have been disrupted and recent research shows significant changes in children’s food consumption and physical activity habits. Poverty is expected to increase worldwide. The COVID-19 pandemic will pass, but the challenges around potential collateral effects will remain in the short-term, and for building preparedness in the longer-term. We must anticipate increases in rates and severity of child and adolescent obesity and initiate response planning related to access to care, food insecurity, opportunities for play and physical activity, and the challenges inherent in inequality for those who are most vulnerable. For this reason, EASO supports health care professionals, communities and governments.
Q: What would you say have been some of the key developments in the field of obesity in the last year?
A: The COVID-19 pandemic has suddenly shone a bright light on the vulnerability of people living with obesity. The EASO medical and scientific community all across Europe has been intensively engaged in addressing the global COVID-19 pandemic. Our clinicians have been working in the front line of care daily for patients living with obesity within emergency care systems, in coordination with other clinical colleagues across 36 countries. Our scientists have developed numerous guidelines and tools, contributing to support patients, clinicians and policy makers.
In October 2020, obesity was listed as a chronic disease within the EU4HEALTH Proposal. This program aims to promote actions to address the collateral impacts of the health crisis on people belonging to vulnerable groups, including people living with obesity. This welcome development pushes our trajectory forward in officially recognising obesity as a chronic, relapsing disease. Finally, in April 2021, EASO was pleased to support the launch of the new European Union MEP Interest Group on Obesity and Health Systems Resilience. The focus of this group is to find ways to build on these developments and identify policy pathways that can lead to full implementation of the European Commission’s new brief on obesity primary prevention published in March 2021, which clearly categorises obesity as a chronic disease.
Q: Over the past year the STEP trials on semaglutide have been published, though the drug has not yet been approved for treating obesity. How big a part do you think new drugs such as this and others will play in addressing obesity going forward?
A: Treatment of obesity consists of multicomponent interventions (nutrition, physical activity, psychology, medications, bariatric surgery) in individual or group settings, which are individually adapted to the needs of patients. These new drugs will provide additional support to reduce food intake, body fat mass, co-morbidities and can improve the quality of life for some people living with obesity. We are also looking forward to new pharmaceutical tools for children and adolescents with obesity, to prevent premature development of co-morbidities. In March 2021, the European Medicine Agency adopted an extension to the existing indication of Saxenda (Liraglutide) to add treatment of obesity to adolescents over 12 years old. This is a first step!
Q: In terms of recognising obesity as a chronic disease, where do you feel we are right now?
A: We have made a big step forward but there is still a long way to go to modify health systems across the European region, to improve access to quality care for people living with obesity. Childhood obesity is usually not considered a chronic disease by primary care providers; there is a lack of training for providers and inadequate referral centres for childhood obesity management.
Q: Hopefully one of the benefits of going online is that you as President have the chance to view and catch up on more sessions than in an in-person meeting. Which sessions are of particular interest to you this year?
A: You are right! During the previous in-person ECO, I had almost no time to attend scientific sessions due to numerous meetings with colleagues and partners. This year, I am particularly looking forward to viewing the basic science, childhood obesity and public health tracks.
Q: Finally all of us at EASO would like to say thank you for your three years service as President. Do you have any words of advice for your successor, Jason Halford?
A: It is a great pleasure to hand over the EASO Presidency to Professor Jason Halford. He has extensive expertise in the field of obesity and I have no doubt that he will continue to grow EASO into an ever more relevant organisation. There are still many actions to undertake for improving the prevention and management of obesity in the European region. I wish Professor Jason Halford great success! He can count on my support to continue this important mission. EASO will be forever in my heart!
Thank you Nathalie, and enjoy ECO2021!