Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Q&A with Dawn Hatanaka: Exploring the Canadian Obesity Network

Although it is Canada's largest obesity association, made up of healthcare professionals, researchers, policy makers and people with an interest in obesity, I had not heard of the Canadian Obesity Network (CON) prior to my rotation at mdBriefCase.

In the excerpts below, I’ve summarized my interview with Dawn Hatanaka, the Director of Education for CON, who is responsible for the organization’s educational initiatives. Dawn explains the association’s origins, goals, achievements as well as what we can expect from the future of CON. I’m hoping that after sharing this excerpt, more healthcare professionals will be aware of CON as both an organization and its offerings.

What is the Canadian Obesity Network and why was it created? 
The Canadian Obesity Network - Réseau canadien en obésité, or CON-RCO, is our official acronym and I like to think we’re Canada’s authority on evidence-based approaches for obesity prevention, treatment and policy. CON-RCO was started in 2006 to create a coordinated response to obesity care; from prevention, treatment to policy across the board. 

When we launched, everything was siloed and piecemealed across the country, so the thought was the network would join obesity research and funding along with prevention and treatment strategies. As of January 2018, the network has about 15,000 professional members and we just opened to the public in 2015 with around 2,000 public supporters. 

You mentioned CON started targeting a scientific community but later opened to the public for membership. Why the change? 
Our mission has always been to improve the lives of Canadians affected by obesity but to do so, we needed to reach out to them. At a 2015 CON workshop – which brought together people living with obesity, healthcare professionals, researchers, policy makers and collaborators - everyone agreed that Canadians living with obesity needed a credible source of resources about their health and how to advocate for themselves. So in June of 2015, the Public Engagement Committee was established, where all members are people living with obesity in Canada and managing their obesity in different ways. They’re our spokespeople across the country for the public and have actively participated in activities to help raise the voice of Canadians affected with obesity, through social media, media interviews, speaker bureaus, education activities and practice and policy committees around the country. 

What would you say are CON’s current goals right now? 
Our official goals are addressing social stigma associated with obesity, changing the way policy makers and health professionals approach obesity and improving access to evidence-based prevention and treatment resources. 
While we continue with what one could say are lofty goals, the things we do to reach them change yearly. We continue to deliver education programs for healthcare professionals, we’ve partnered with government agencies and others working in population health policies because there has been a lot of unintentional consequences of population health messaging which deter people from seeking out treatment due to that stigma. We’re also supporting obesity research, through collaboration with the Canadian Institute of Health Research (CIHR) and leveraging 1.5 billion dollars in funding for obesity research. 

Many of the myths and messages in the public are very patient centric. What are the major initiatives CON has spearheaded recently to combat these myths? 
Last year we started a “Bust The Bias” campaign over social media only. These short videos [on CON’s YouTube channel] talk about all these myths and why they’re wrong. We placed them in the public eye and shared them with our partner associations to increase people’s exposure to the content. For example, the bariatric clinic in Ottawa have all of them rolling on their TVs in the waiting room all the time. 

What would you say is the biggest challenge the network faces as an organization? 
Getting obesity recognized as a chronic disease across the board is our biggest challenge so far. Despite CON-RCO, Canadian Medical Association, American Medical Association and the WHO declaring obesity to be a chronic disease, the provinces and territories don’t recognize it as a chronic disease nor do they treat it that way. They still categorize obesity as a result of poor lifestyle choices.

Obesity is not on their radar and I think it’s one of the things that CON-RCO needs to do; mobilize that advocacy side and the public to ask because you’re never going to get something if you don’t ask. 

What would you say are the key milestones CON has made since its inception? 
There are a couple of key things. The number of Canadian physicians taking the American Board of Obesity Management (ABOM) exam almost doubled between 2016 and 2017. We also launched the Certified Bariatric Educator program in 2016, which started out with very small numbers but continues to grow with interest in Canada as well as internationally.

I also think with the CMA declaring obesity as a chronic medical disease in October 2015 was a big thing. We had champions within the CMA that had been pushing this agenda forward for years. Of course, the report card that was released last year was huge because you can finally put some numbers and grades to show people [the issues surrounding access to obesity treatments]. 

Where would you like to see CON in the next 5-10 years and what steps must be taken to get there? 
Provincial and territorial governments need to recognize the position that CMA and CON have taken - that obesity is a chronic disease and they need to put resources towards it and change their approach accordingly. I’d also like to see employers & health insurers do the same – that would be amazing.

That’s where I think we should go - getting obesity recognized as a chronic disease across the board, which will have a trickle-down effect to increase access to care. We still have a lot more work in the weight bias and stigma space to get people to recognize weight bias and stigma as barriers preventing people from accessing treatment for their chronic disease.

I’ll also mention that we’ve just started writing new Canadian clinical practice guidelines for the management and treatment of obesity in adults which should be released in early 2019. This one is going to be quite different, as the target audience is family physicians and it will be patient-centered. We also have people living with obesity as part of the committee. One of the things the patient group is suggesting is that we have a patient tool kit included so they can talk to their physician and help promote the uptake as well. 

Post Reflection 

After speaking to Dawn, I realized how much CON has to offer to healthcare professionals and to patients as well. It’s also free for healthcare professionals to join and access the various resources available from the Network regarding obesity management. For more information on topics discussed in the interview, please see below for some links: