Monday, May 11, 2009

Congratulations to the Canadian Obesity Network!

This past weekend I had the pleasure and honour of attending and presenting at the first national Canadian Obesity Network (CON) conference.

It was held in the Kananskis (at the foot of the Alberta Rockies) and I can honestly say that it was one of the loveliest conferences I've ever attended.

Many of the who's who of obesity in Canada were there and topics ranged from program development, to genetic determinants to public policy and perhaps the best part of the conference was the incredibly warm and close atmosphere that was generated by the 400 attendees.

The standout lecture for me was one by Dr. Alejandro (Alex) Jadad the Canada Research Chair in eHealth Innovation, Professor at the University of Toronto and Director of their Program in eHealth Innovation. His accomplishments are far too wide and varied to be included in this post but if you're interested click his name above to read about him on Wikipedia.

Alex spent an hour both entertaining and scolding the audience for letting technology pass us by leaving us pondering whether or not we ought to ask our patients for their email address while patients themselves set up sophisticated social networking sites that allow them to make up for our failings in providing them with sufficiently timely information and support. He also spent time chastising us for putting too much of our focus and energy on, "applying for grants, seeking promotions and giving ourselves awards" when instead we could be doing more to improve patient care in Canada.

Personally I think Alex's message was spot-on. There are tangible things that we could be doing to help improve patient care (not just with regards to obesity but in fact to medicine as a whole) and yet vastly disproportionate amounts of resources are being spent on basic science that while certainly noble, is not helping Canadians in any concrete way.

We were able to discuss this further after his talk when he and CON's communications director and mutually good friend of ours Brad Hussey and I closed the bar. We all agreed that frankly there are too many times when we've read newly published studies only to ponder, "So what?!" and without revealing our hand, by the end of the night, we had set in motion a plan of action to shake things up a bit in the research world (stay tuned).

Me? I was able to discuss regulating the weight loss industry. I discussed two options. The carrot and the stick.

The stick is formal regulations but I'm actually pushing for the carrot.

The carrot would involve an organization establishing an auditable set of inclusionary and exclusionary criteria designed to identify ethical and evidence based weight management programs.

Programs would then pay for their own audits annually and if deemed appropriate would be allowed to use a front-of-program logo on their websites and promotional materials. Governments, NGOs and allied health personnel would then be recruited to promote awareness of the logo and in so doing would help provide patients with a simple but powerful tool to help navigate the morass of the commercial weight loss industry.

My belief is that this is a job for CON.

Why CON?

In just 5 years CON has established itself as the Canadian authority on all matters obesity related; the Canadian Medical Association has called on Provincial, Territorial and municipal health authorities to work with CON on their obesity policies; and this type of an endeavour would help extend CON's recognition to the general public.

If you're interested I've managed to post my talk below (remember, email subscribers need to click the post's title to get back to the blog to view the videos).

Really kudos to CON and sincere thanks to everyone who was involved in putting together what turned out to be a fantastic conference.

If you missed it this year, don't miss 2011 in Montreal!

[Thanks to Brad Hussey - friend, CON communications director, and now too, videographer!]