Jason Halford has completed his first year as President of EASO, and has also adjusted to a huge career change, switching from his long-time role as Head of School of Psychology at the University of Liverpool to take up the role as Head of School at the University of Leeds, UK.
Q: Welcome back Jason. I know we are holding a hybrid meeting, but doesn’t it feel great to be able to meet in person again?
A: This year we are back in business. We truly didn’t expect to see so many onsite registrations. We are expecting to see over 1500 delegates in Maastricht this week. But it is great to have 500+ already registered online as well. This number is likely to double during and after the meeting. Registering for online access will be a benefit whether on site or remote to ensure no one misses anything. It is also an honour to host the launch of the WHO European Obesity report at ECO ZoomForward22. The report sets out the challenge we face and supports EASO’s mission for obesity to be considered in the same way as any other non-communicable disease.
Q: This year’s meeting is called Zoom Forward, a combination of the European Congress on Obesity (ECO) with the meeting of the International Federation of Surgical Obesity and Metabolic Disorders – European Chapter (IFSO – EC). How do the two societies complement one another?
This is our second joint meeting, and the partnership is even stronger this time around. T he collaboration builds on the strong collaboration between the two national societies in the Netherlands who developed the Zoom Foward22 concept together —which has really made this one congress. What has been crucial is the focus on People Living with Obesity in both societies. This has enabled us to align our objectives and really use the meeting as a platform to showcase excellence in obesity research and practice, and importantly, to push for people living with obesity to have access to safe and effective treatment.
Q: We have an amazing line up for our first in-person/hybrid event. You yourself are involved in several research projects, including SWEET and ACTION TEENS. Would you tell us a little about each project?
A: SWEET is a timely project looking at the barriers to using sweeteners and sweetness enhancers (and blends thereof) to replace sugar in the diet. It is important to understand the formulation challenges, the impact of these ingredients on key biomarkers, their impact on appetite and weight management and also their environmental social and economic sustainability. We already have some intriguing data on consumer knowledge of and attitudes toward sweeteners. The session on Saturday morning will outline new data from all the work packages including early clinical studies, epidemiological analysis, consumer views, and ingredient life cycle analysis and well as technical and regulatory barriers around sweeteners.
ACTION-Teens builds on the previous ACTION studies and like ACTION-IO is a global study. The link between poor mental health and obesity also starts in childhood and adolescence. However, teenagers often fall between child and adult specific weight management services. We know adolescents living with obesity are more likely to develop cardiometabolic problems in later in life, and ACTION-IO demonstrated that earlier struggles with self-weight management also predicted higher adult BMI and poorer weight management outcome in adulthood. ACTION-Teens sets out to identify perceptions, attitudes, behaviours, and potential barriers to effective obesity care across adolescents living with obesity, caregivers of adolescents living with obesity (parents or other legal guardian) and HCPs. I look forward to introducing ACTION-Teens Thursday morning. Maastricht will be the first meeting at which ACTION-Teen data will be shared.
Q: Other than these projects, what are your own research interests?
A: Although I originally started my career as an appetite researcher, the entire field of obesity research interests me. My training in psychology tends to lead me to interest in mental health, and the impact of physical health on psychology wellbeing. Working with colleagues in The European Coalition for People Living with Obesity (ECPO), I have become keenly aware of mental health challenges related to obesity. Comprehensive treatment incorporating evidence based behavioural strategies and psychological support can be effective in clinical management of obesity, but a lack of shared knowledge makes comparisons between approaches difficult and thus is a barrier for personalised approaches to obesity. Much work is needed here. I am delighted to announce a new EASO Working Group on Psychology, Behaviour and Mental Health.
Q: It’s hard for the President to get to sessions, we know. But what has caught your eye in the program?
A: I am looking forward to the Stigma and Mental Health abstract session I am chairing on Wednesday. Also, the Early Career Network Awards and Best Thesis Award sessions (Friday). As always, we have very strong accepted symposia on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, and remember you can always register to view these sessions later online. But to be honest it is the poster sessions I really enjoy. You never know what you are going to find. There is always tremendous energy in the room during poster sessions; it brings back the excitement of my first congresses and my own first poster presentation.
Q: We have several high profile journalists with us this year, as has been the case during the past five years at ECO. What is it that attracts journalists to our meetings? And how on earth will you fit in media interviews with your presidential duties??!
A: This wasn’t always the case but over the last ten years ECO has developed a track record of generating international press interest. So much so that ECO now serves as a showcase for international obesity science annually, and journalists now attend in person to ensure they scoop the best science stories for their individual publications. Regarding my diary, EASO spends considerable time planning and coordinating our schedules before the event.
Q: Finally, what message of welcome to do you have for our delegates, wherever they may be?
A: There is a tremendous desire to meet again face to face. Enjoy the meeting, visit with old colleagues, make new friends, and explore the lovely city of Maastricht. And of course, we’ll see you all next year in Dublin.
A: Thanks Jason, and enjoy the congress!