2016 EASO Training the Trainers Summer School: Reflections from Abd Tahrani

I was recently selected by the European Association for the Study of Obesity (EASO) to participate in the first EASO Train The Trainer (TTT) course, which took place between 26th and 29th June, 2016 in the beautiful town of Divonne-Les-Bains, France just across the border from Switzerland, near Geneva.

The event brought together 32 specialists in the fields of childhood and adult obesity from across Europe and included participants from a variety of professional backgrounds: dieticians, surgeons, psychologists, physical activity experts and other HCPs; academics, patients, health communications specialists, public health specialists and of course primary care clinicians and obesity specialists.  The course offered participants a unique environment to interact with peers across disciplines, and to meet and hear from senior faculty members who are leaders in the field of obesity, and with experts from the WHO and Public Health England who deal with policy makers on regular basis. Workshops included training on how to communicate with policy makers, how to shape and change policy and how to address the stigma associated with obesity.

On the first day, after a short drive from Geneva airport and a nice lunch, we were welcomed to the course by EASO president-elect Nathalie Farpour-Lambert, whose motivation, enthusiasm and charisma were infectious throughout the event. After a round of introductions, we heard an enlightening talk from patient Christina Fleetwood, who is a steering committee member of the EASO Patient Council, about her lifelong experiences with obesity and how she has viewed and felt about her interactions with health care professionals throughout her life. Then we had two talks about how to address obesity stigma and how to educate other health care professionals about obesity.

On the second day we were greeted in the morning by a talk delivered by the ever so knowledgeable Nathalie Farpour-Lambert, outlining the case for why obesity should be considered and treated as a chronic disease. This was followed by a nice talk addressing the health and economic impact of obesity worldwide and other tools which can be important to utilise when discussing obesity with policymakers.

After a short break, we spent the second half of the morning learning from eminent speakers about their experiences and what they learnt from previous interactions with policymakers and how we can make a convincing argument that enhance our chances of changing policy successfully. We finished the morning with a great example from Austria showing us how to set up a successful school intervention. The afternoon started with a talk regarding physical activity and how we can enhance and increase activity levels among patients with obesity, followed by an interactive session with the faculty regarding how to set up successful interventions that result in true change in policy. We finished with two excellent and informative interactive sessions addressing motivational interviewing techniques (which are essential tools for any health care professional addressing the health of patients with obesity) and how to set up a centre of obesity management (COM).

During the first half of the third day we had an informative talk about the management of obesity in adults and we had an example of a successful internet-based weight management intervention from Finland followed by an inspirational workshop regarding the use of social media. After lunch we had a fantastic workshop in which each participant had to choose an intervention or change in policy that we intend to implement in our professional lives and we were asked to discuss these project strategies in small groups and with senior faculty. Using multiple resources provided to us by the faculty, we had to come up with a clear plan, the logical incremental steps and timelines to help us achieve our objectives and we are now working on these projects in our professional settings across Europe. We will be reporting our progress back to faculty on a regular basis.

The final day was exciting as we had a little journey to the beautiful French town of Evian where we attended the hydration for health (H4H) conference. This was quite an interesting event, particularly in the afternoon when there was a session regarding hydration and obesity.

This course has several advantages. The format, much of which was practical rather than lecture style, allowed us to explore topics in depth and to apply the skills learnt to practice. The course also addressed several aspects that usually do not receive enough attention during training, such as how to convert our ideas to interventions and how to communicate with policymakers.

Training took place in a relaxed setting with many opportunities for networking among attendees and faculty during the practical sessions, the lovely meals or during the breaks between sessions, which always had plenty of hot and cold beverages and delicious cakes (yes, cakes, in an obesity meeting! The grand finale was a reception and a group dinner with the H4H delegates in a beautiful castle on this final night of the meeting. And it was not only science, communication and leadership skills what we learnt, we also gained new skills in a practice salsa dancing lesson and a late evening golf practice session, which were great examples how increasing physical activity can be fun!

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed my experience at the TTT and I strongly recommend that my colleagues and friends in the field of obesity apply. During this course I gained new knowledge, developed new skills, forged new collaborations, and met new friends. None of this would have been possible without support from EASO and without the great efforts and hard work of Nathalie Farpour-Lambert, Hermann Toplak, and Euan Woodward. So a very big thank you to all of them on organising a very successful event. I look forward to meeting my new friends from TTT online in our new TTT alumni LinkedIn and Facebook groups! I’m sure colleagues will meet again at future EASO Congresses and events.