by Ximena Ramos Salas, PhD, Director of Research and Policy, and Ian Patton, PhD, Director of Public Engagement and Advocacy
It has been almost 15 years since Obesity Canada (formerly the Canadian Obesity Network) was established by the Canadian government under the umbrella of the Networks of Centres of Excellence New Initiative program (NCE-NI).
Our mandate then was to unite researchers across disciplines and translate research to improve the health of Canadians living with obesity. Year after year, our community raised awareness about obesity, facilitated research and educated health care professionals to support Canadians living with obesity.
OC has become one of the largest obesity communities in the world dedicated to research, education and advocacy.
Since 2006, Obesity Canada has advocated for the creation of a national obesity strategy to support the millions of Canadians affected by this disease.
We have also created a community of people living with obesity that provides guidance for our research and education initiatives and unites to address weight bias and obesity stigma.
Through the years, we have provided obesity education to thousands of health care professionals, developed resources to support evidence-based obesity care, raised awareness and developed interventions to reduce weight bias and obesity stigma, and advocated for improving standards and access to obesity care.
Fast forward to August 2020 when Obesity Canada, in collaboration with the Canadian Association of Bariatric Physicians and Surgeons, launched the new Clinical Practice Guidelines for the Management of Obesity in Adults – an initiative that took almost three years to develop and engaged over 60 researchers, individuals living with obesity and primary care professionals. Over 550,000 scientific papers were reviewed through countless volunteer hours.
This landmark guideline was highly anticipated by Canadian and international stakeholders as evident by the significant media coverage:
- Over 80 million media impressions (including front-page coverage in the Toronto Star, the National Post and the Globe & Mail, coverage by all national TV networks and major local markets as well as most CBC radio markets) from nearly 300 unique reports.
- International media coverage was also significant through CNN, The Guardian, BBC and Irish Times, to name a few.
- Hundreds of primary care professionals have signed up for OC Connect Pro, Obesity Canada’s online professional community powered by TimedRight.
- Hundreds of individuals living with obesity signed up for OC Connect, an online community powered by Mighty Networks.
- Thousands of daily visitors to Obesity Canada’s website– averaging 25 minutes per visit.
- Significant social media coverage, with #obesity trending in the top 10 in Canada on launch day.
The release of the new guidelines and all of this media attention comes at a time when obesity has already been in the media as emerging epidemiological research indicates that obesity is a risk factor for COVID-19 illness, morbidity, and mortality.
Is Canada finally ready to develop a national obesity strategy that will support the needs of the millions of Canadians that are living with this disease?
Canada created a framework for the prevention of childhood obesity, yet our healthcare system does not recognize obesity as a chronic disease and Canadians living with obesity still struggle to find evidence-based care, while also continuing to be shamed and blamed for their disease.
We believe the new guidelines provide a good opportunity to create a national obesity strategy. To this end, we have prepared a submission for the Pre-Budget Consultations in Advance of the Upcoming Federal Budget in which we ask the federal government to convene a broad consultation of stakeholders and shift our approach to obesity as a chronic disease while developing a framework to guide federal, provincial and territorial governments in the development of a national obesity strategy.
Having a national strategy will allow for a coordinated and collaborative approach to implementing the guidelines, help provide leadership and guidance on best practices, and give provinces and local health authorities the direction to address this very complex chronic disease.
We hope that you will advocate with us for the implementation of the new evidence-based and patient-centered guidelines that can inform a national obesity strategy to support the health of all Canadians.