Last November, CHErIsH post doc Michelle Queally recently presented CHErIsH research at the 2017 European Childhood Obesity Group Conference (ECOG) in the stunning city of Rome. ECOG is a well-established group set up in 1991, describing its’ mission as helping the European community to “understand fully the health, social, psychological and economic impacts of childhood obesity, and work together to take this growing problem off the menu in Europe”. Michelle presented the results of the CHErIsH’s team research which examined parental perceptions of their child’s weight in Ireland. Michelle spoke about how the findings indicated that mothers are unable to accurately identify their child’s overweight or obesity status at age 3 and age 5.
Although all of the presentations focused on issues in childhood obesity research, the range of topics was quite broad, covering prevention of childhood obesity, clinical aspects and origins, health behaviours and costs of childhood obesity. Apart from getting the opportunity to enjoy an audience with the Pope along with casually walking past the Trevi Fountain every morning on route to the conference (!), my top three personal highlights from the conference were the presentations delivered by Francesco Branca, Amandine Garde and together Sarah Redsell and Jenny Rose. So, very briefly why were these my top 3 favs?!
Firstly, it was reassuring and encouraging to be reminded that our CHErIsH team research agenda on infant feeding practises in Ireland is very much the agenda at a global level – as reiterated by the none other than the Director of the Department of Nutrition for Health and Development in the World Health Organisation (WHO), Geneva; Francesco Branca. Namely, the mixed messages around infant feeding guidelines where Branca referred to these being “a global jungle” and very confusing with “no authoritative source”. He noted that the whole issue of key messages around infant feeding practise is a critical one; what the key messages are and how we need to work on developing these as a scientific community. He also alluded to the self-experts on the web that are churning out misguided non-evidence based advice on infant feeding. Interestingly, he went on to suggest how we, the scientific community ought to try working better with the social media who are possibly best able to convene these messages. So, ladies and gentlemen that participated in our CHErIsH focus groups in Cork and Galway, it’s fair (and sad) to say that the sentiments and challenges that you spoke about regarding mixed infant feeding guidelines and sources are a global “phenomenon”. It is certainly encouraging that the WHO have highlighted this research area as critical. The picture on the below left shows UNICEF recommended practises for infant feeding.
An interesting message from Amandine Garde was that we ought to frame childhood obesity prevention as a child’s right- rather than as being a public health initiative. This opened up a huge debate in the audience. Her take home message was that parents are guardians of children’s health but that there is too much intervention – it should be the parent’s role to prevent the child from becoming obese/overweight. But, she also noted that parents need to be supported by the state and that the state has the responsibility to ensure that children’s environment is not obesogenic.
Sarah Redsell and Jenny Rose (pictured below) presented their project which assessed the feasibility and acceptability of using digital technology for assessing the risk of obesity during infancy. We know that interactive digital technology can support complex and sensitive discussions between health professionals and patients. This is such an important area of research as we also are aware of the sensitive nature of communicating that a child is overweight or obese. In very simple terms, their study used a tablet to input the child’s data (baby birth weight and length, current weight etc.) into a validated risk prediction tool (called ProAsk) which then calculated the infant’s risk of obesity. Interestingly they found this tool was acceptable to most parents, but intervention fidelity was low. Intervention fidelity refers to the degree to which the intervention is delivered as intended. So maybe more research needed here but definitely a promising area of research.
Overall, the ECOG meeting was enjoyable and intellectually stimulating. If I had to find one minor “fault” with the conference…it would be the food served up! A colleague of ours who also is involved in the CHErIsH project– Marita Hennessy springs to mind here…who is an advocate for healthy eating in the workplace, particularly at these type of meetings. Although it may have been a case of when in Rome…literally…! But the teatime snacks provided included biscuits, crisps and peanuts and sugary pastries (no healthy options), with pasta and lots of non- healthy food for lunch…hmm… This was in fact a discussion point in the networking sessions! As a self-confessed sugar addict, it suited me fine but I couldn’t help but think maybe it’s time we practised what we preach…particularly at a European conference of childhood obesity. Overall though, a fantastic insight to all the multifaceted layers that exist regarding childhood obesity.