Message from the ASO Chair

October 2020

It’s fair to say that my first year in post as Chair of the Board of Trustees for ASO has not been anything like I had anticipated.  As with many others, we experienced an unprecedented impact of COVID-19 that no one could have forecasted last September.  I’ve attempted to summarise how this has impacted on ASO and its wider community below. Despite its inevitable impact, ASO has continued to develop new initiatives which we believe are of benefit to both the association and its members. However, firstly, it is important to recognise that COVID-19 has had a substantial impact on people living with obesity.  As an association, we are committed to supporting patient led organisations and the people who they represent.  COVID-19 has re-ignited our relationship with our partners, particularly Obesity UK and the Obesity Empowerment Network and it is absolutely essential that this remains a clear focus for ASO.

Impact of COVID-19

After months of organisation and planning for UKCO20 in Oxford, we had to make the very difficult decision early in the pandemic to cancel ASO’s flagship congress. We are extremely grateful to Professor Susan Jebb and her excellent team in Oxford for all of their efforts in the planning of an excellent programme and in their extremely professional approach to its cancellation.  We also hope that we are able to go back to Oxford one day to deliver at least some of the planned activities.

Similarly, many of our planned Network meetings and events for the ASO Centres of Obesity Management were forced to cancel, often at short notice.   We know that it is a lot of work in preparing meetings and that everybody involved will be disappointed. The UK ASO has 10 Networks covering the length and breadth of the UK.  We are extremely grateful to all of the Network leads and I would like to extend my sincere appreciation for the incredibly important work they do promoting the ASO mission and organisation.

ASO responded to COVID-19 in a number of ways.  In the first instance, we recognised a lack of clarity and guidance for people living with obesity and the health care community.  Our EASO partners were quick to develop resources and we were happy to share them amongst our UK networks and members.  We then worked in partnership with two UK based patient organisations, Obesity UK and the Obesity Empowerment Network, to produce a joint position paper based on lived experiences of people living with obesity at the peak of the pandemic (https://www.thelancet.com/pdfs/journals/landia/PIIS2213-8587(20)30236-9.pdf?dm_t=0,0,0,0,0).  I am keen to further develop these partnerships as a key component of ASO and happy to report that Ken Clare has agreed to continue his role on the Board of Trustees as a patient representative.  In addition to formalising partnerships, Ken is keen to consider ways in which we can facilitate patient involvement in research and this is an activity that ASO plans to support moving forward.

Many of you will also be aware that, in an attempt to provide an alternative offer to our members and other networks, we have developed a webinar series (https://www.aso.org.uk/events).  These webinars have proved more popular than we imagined, and our registration rates for each webinar have been in excess of 300; perhaps partly due to the ease of remote attendance, but also due to the impressive calibre of programme and speakers.   Feedback so far has been extremely positive and indicates that we have extended the reach and profile of ASO as a result.  We are thankful to Novo Nordisk for sponsoring a series of these events[1]; enabling us to provide webinars of exceptional quality, but without influencing the choice of subject or speakers. I am also extremely thankful to our Trustees, particularly Dr Simon Williams and Professor Abd Tahrani for moving this work forward. Webinars started with a COVID-19 focus but will continue to discuss other relevant areas.  We have started to engage with our ASO Networks to support webinars and are also open to receiving suggestions from our members with regards to future webinars.

ASO governance and working arrangements

We have been busy this year, updating our governing documents and I’m extremely grateful to Dr David Hughes for leading this work as ASO interim Secretary.  This has been done with support from our Secretariat, BioScientifica, and I would like to especially thank Laura Dudley, who has been instrumental in supporting this and many ASO office activities this year.

Building on the work from the previous year, led by our most recent outgoing Chair, Dr Simon Williams, we have now had a full opportunity to test out a new way of working as a Board of Trustees.  Previously, our model involved a number of full trustee meetings across the year, with activities and roles divided according to Trustee interests/expertise.  Our new model includes sub-committees with dedicated activities, each led by a named Trustee.  An overview of this is detailed on our website. The approach allows Trustees to meet separately as sub-committees and focus on specific activities, which are then reported back to the Board in less frequent full Trustees meetings. Given the success of this so far, it’s likely that ASO will continue to use this model for some time.

The remit of each of these committees can be viewed on our website https://www.aso.org.uk/about/sub-committees/.  We hope that this will also help our members and partners to communicate more effectively, specific to their individual needs.

ASO Small Grants

Over the past year, we have been considering new opportunities to support our members.  One way that we feel we could do this is to introduce a new small grants scheme.  Given our current circumstances, it felt most appropriate to accept COVID related grants which have the potential to impact on people living with obesity and/or the wider public.  Thank you to those of you who submitted applications.  We were pleased to receive 17 applications for this award and these were reviewed by our Trustees, plus additional external reviewers when conflicts of interest prohibited trustee review.  I’m happy to report that we were able to award funds to two grants.

Congratulations to Dr Anna Chisholm, (University of Liverpool) and Dr David Hughes (Royal Derby Hospital), both of whom will be invited to present their work when we meet in Belfast for UKCO21.  More details of their planned work can be seen on our website  https://www.aso.org.uk/research-practice/covid-19-research-grant/ .  I would like to extend a special thank you to Professor James Stubbs and the rest of the Research and Advisory sub-committee for all of their efforts in setting up and awarding these grants.  We welcome any feedback more generally about the grant process, including the value that members feel they provide and any suggestions for future topics.

ASO monthly News Update

Another area of change for ASO over the past year has been the introduction of our monthly email news update.  This was also designed to give something back to our members and partners and attempts to consolidate the way we communicate, replacing the need to send out multiple emails. In addition to highlighting relevant news and events, the news update provides a platform for our members to promote their activities, including showcasing research/clinical practice, advertising jobs or recruitment of participants.  Importantly, this promotional opportunity is freely available to our members (provided it is a not-for-profit organisation).  Please do get in touch if this is something you are interested in (ASOoffice@aso.org.uk).  This work has been led by the Communications, Partnerships and Networks sub-committee, led by Professor Graham Finlayson, and I’m extremely grateful for their efforts.   Again, we welcome any feedback you have about the news update.

Collaborations and partnership

ASO continues to strive to provide input and support to other associations which align to our mission and objectives.   COVID-19 has perhaps more than ever, exposed inequalities in health and public health and challenges in the health care system, and we have committed to supporting others whose aim it is to support people living with obesity and those working hard to improve public health and obesity prevention.  We have co-signed many petitions, including those led by the Obesity Health Alliance, School Food Campaign and Sustain, aimed at alleviating holiday hunger and have responded to consultations, including providing feedback on the NHSE&I procurement of digital weight management services.  I would like to extend a thank you to Dr Kath Roberts, who coordinated this role alongside the Clinical Practice and Obesity management sub-committee.

Trustee elections and roles

Under the Articles of the Association, in September this year Dr Abd Tahrani, Dr David Hughes and Ken Clare were required to either leave the Board of Trustees or stand for re-election.  I am pleased to report that following our election, all three Trustees will continue as Trustees for a further term.  After careful deliberation, it was decided that having a patient representative on the Board of Trustees is essential.  Thus, Ken Clare has been automatically invited to the Board and we will be updating our governing documents to secure this post in the future.  I am excited to continue to work with Ken and thank him for his crucial contribution. Dr David Hughes was acting interim secretary from 2019-2020 and we are extremely grateful to him for agreeing to continue this role in a more official capacity for his next term in office.  Similarly, we are extremely grateful to Dr Tahrani, who has agreed to continue to Chair the Clinical Practice and Obesity Management sub-committee.

Unfortunately, we are going to have to say goodbye to two other Trustees, who have both now come to the end of their terms according our ASO Articles of Association.  Dr Simon Williams has been part of the ASO family for many years now, having been a past Trustee who became re-elected and then went on to become the Chair of the Board.  Simon was the driving force for our new way of working and I will very much miss his calm and considerate approach in delivering important activities and supporting Trustees.  We hope that Simon continues to be a life-long member and look forward to engaging with him in the future.   It is also with sadness that we will also be saying goodbye to Professor Barbara McGowan. Barbara has been instrumental in setting up and co-leading the Clinical Practice and Obesity Management sub-committee and I am thankful for the on-going support and profile raising activities that she has delivered.  I am hopeful that Barbara will continue to be an important ambassador for ASO in the future.

I am delighted to announce that three new Trustees have been elected and will join the ASO Board at the Annual General Meeting on the 1st October 2020.  These include Patrick McGinley, who has agreed to take on the role of ASO Treasurer, in addition to Dr Rebecca Richards and Dr Alex Miras; whose roles will be discussed after they join the Board.   Can I offer my thanks to all members who stood for election in 2020 and encourage members to consider standing for election in 2021 when vacancies will arise.

[1] *Novo Nordisk has provided sponsorship to the Association for the Study of Obesity (ASO) to fully fund all costs for the development of this webinar, including creation, organisation, production and administration. Novo Nordisk has had no influence on the content and full editorial control remains the sole responsibility of ASO. None of the speakers have received a fee for their participation in this webinar, and ASO has been fully responsible for engaging with participants.

Dr Maria Bryant

Chair, Association for the Study of Obesity

September 2019

I feel honoured to serve as the Chair of the Association for the Study of Obesity (ASO) having been a member for almost 20 years and a trustee for the past 7 years.  During that time, I have seen large changes in the organisation, both in the way that the society is organised and within the field of obesity; perhaps reflecting ASO’s ability to move with the times.  However, what has always remained consistent in my mind is the feeling that ASO offers a welcoming platform to bring together likeminded people, whose shared goal is the prevention and treatment of obesity.  Indeed, I’ve always felt that one of the Association’s key strengths is the way it encourages meaningful networking and partnership.  As a student member, I remember feeling that ASO was a ‘safe’ place to share my ideas, present my work and introduce myself to more learned members.  And our annual congress (UKCO) and network meetings offer a place to both catch up with old friends and colleagues, and meet new friends and collaborators.  In more recent years, we have seen the expansion of our networks, with invaluable partners, including patient led organisations such as ObesityUK, the Obesity Empowerment Network the Obesity Health Alliance and the European Coalition for People Living with Obesity. Our collaborating centre for obesity management (COM) now includes more than 30 centres and organisations, all working towards improving the management of adults living with obesity.  Such partnerships are crucial in achieving the mission of ASO; to develop an understanding of obesity through the pursuit of excellence in research and education, the facilitation of contact between individuals and organisations, and the promotion of action to prevent and treat obesity.

The involvement of our membership has always felt like another key strength of ASO.  Since my time as a trustee, we have conducted two strategic reviews with members; whose opinions have shaped the way we deliver our meetings (moving from two 1-day meetings to a single national congress each year), how we work with our Early Career Researchers (ECRs), the development of new initiatives such as our Networks and COMs group and our policies (including those on weight bias and stigma and sponsorship and collaborative partnerships).  We will continue to seek input from all members, and continually strive to update policies in light of feedback we receive.  One of my roles in ASO has been to support our ECR and I remain keen to learn from this community in regards to what they would most value in being part of the community.  We are also keen to hear from any of our members with any suggestions to add value to membership, improve the way we work together and /or promote impact.

During my term as Chair of ASO, my goals are to continue building the collaborative nature of the Association, promote its excellence in the field and invest in its future.  I am truly grateful to ASO for providing me with many opportunities to meet and partner with some excellent colleagues including past and present trustees.  I am thankful to our members and all of the many partners and sponsors, without whom we could not continue, and look forward to my time as Chair.

Dr Maria Bryant

Chair, Association for the Study of Obesity