RCSI School of Physiotherapy: Obesity Research and Care Group

Following two years of virtual only events, the 29th European Congress on Obesity (ECO) was a blended event with both online and attendance in person options in Maastricht, The Netherlands.  The 4-day hybrid event was hosted by The European Association for the Study of Obesity (EASO) in conjunction with the International Federation for the Surgery of Obesity and Metabolic Disorders (IFSO). The ECO provides a platform for individuals working in the field of obesity and those affected by obesity to convene, share insight, learn together and establish stronger relations across communities, organisations and countries worldwide.

Members of the RCSI Obesity Research and Care Group actively participated throughout the congress presenting the most recent developments in their work and chairing relevant sessions. Principal Investigator Dr. Grace O’Malley and Researcher Niamh Arthurs participated in policy workshops at ECO, contributing to insight and discussion on national plans for obesity and implementation from policy to practice.

Niamh Arthurs presented on behalf of the RCSI Group’s Sláintecare childhood obesity project in a guided poster presentation, that detailed the process involved in developing the online free and CPD accredited childhood obesity training programme for health professionals in Ireland.

Dr. Louise Tully, Post-doctoral Researcher in the RCSI Obesity Research and Care Group delivered an oral presentation on findings from an HRB-sponsored APA project addressing capacity building for childhood obesity management in the Irish health system. She outlined results of a systematic review on clinical practice guidelines for treating child and adolescent obesity. We were very proud of Dr. Tully who won the ‘The EASO Best Thesis Award 2022’ in a highly competitive process (More about award). Following presentations from the top three scoring theses, Dr. Tully achieved this prestigious award from the EASO Early Career Network (More about network) for her RCSI StAR-funded Ph.D. on the use of digital healthcare for children with obesity. The use of digital healthcare and telemedicine is a topic of importance to health systems globally, particularly since the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic. Dr. Tully specifically investigated user perspectives on barriers and facilitators for implementing paediatric telehealth, the role of mobile health (mHealth) in paediatric obesity management, healthcare utilisation costs for children with obesity and a cost analysis of delivering mHealth interventions compared to face-to-face care.

Dr. Maeve O’Brien Post-doctoral Researcher from the RCSI Obesity Research and Care Group presented details on the development of a communication toolkit for primary care health professionals working in childhood obesity management. This project is funded by EASO and is a collaboration with the RCSI SIM Centre for Simulation, Education and Research.

All of the conference presentations are published and represent ongoing work from the Group and other collaborators including public patient representatives.

Involving the lived experience was a pivotal feature of each day of the congress. The importance of people-first language was emphasised by delegates choosing to wear a green ribbon stating ‘I’m People First’ on their congress lanyard. In addition, the blinded abstract review process screened for the use of people-first language by submitting authors. Public-patient representatives were welcomed and actively involved in the congress as equal partners including the chairing of sessions, presenting, co-authors on posters and abstracts and as a powerful reminder that obesity affects real life and people.

ECO2022 closed with the announcement that the 30th European Congress on Obesity will be in Dublin from May 17th-20th 2023, Chaired by Dr. Grace O’Malley from RCSI Physiotherapy. Plans and preparations are already in place and after winning this bid as the host country, The Association for the Study of Obesity on the Island of Ireland (ASOI) will ensure ‘céad míle fáilte’ (a hundred thousand welcomes) to all who attend ECO2023.

ECO 2023 30th European Congress on Obesity Poster

The LANDSCAPE study team want to hear from healthcare professionals and managers in Ireland who see children and adolescents in their daily practice

Would you have 15-25 minutes to complete a questionnaire on how childhood obesity management fits within your service? If you encounter children with possible obesity in the course of your practice, we would love to hear from you.

The Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI University of Medicine and Health Sciences) in collaboration with the Health Service Executive (HSE), are recruiting health professionals and managers from all disciplines, who work in Ireland, to complete an online survey and/or take part in an online focus group on current childhood obesity treatment services in Ireland.

Aims and further details

The aim of this work is to map currently available services and practices in relation to caring for children with obesity and their complications. It is envisaged that this will help develop an understanding of how these services and practices may differ across the country and in various settings in Ireland. It may also provide valuable insight on the potential barriers and enablers for the provision of obesity treatment services in Ireland and identifying the supports needed.

The online survey takes approximately 15-25 minutes to complete, depending on the level to which the health professional or healthcare manager cares for children and adolescents with obesity in their daily practice, either for weight management specifically or for treatment of other conditions. Survey participants will also have the opportunity to add any information that they feel is important and the opportunity to express an interest in participating in a focus group which is also part of this project. Please see further details on the LANDSCAPE focus groups via the participant information sheet participant information sheet access.

Please access the survey go to survey

For the next part of this study, we will later be undertaking focus groups with healthcare professionals also. You can register your interest for the online focus groups hereThese are open to all health professionals and managers, including those who complete the survey or not. 

All views and participation will be greatly appreciated. Participants can choose to take part in both the survey and focus group or just one of these options.

This work and its analysis will be completely anonymous.

 Obesity in children

Nearly 20% of children in Ireland are living with overweight or obesity1 with 7% estimated to have obesity2 and 1.5% estimated to have severe obesity3. When children develop obesity they can have difficulties with their physical and mental health including: high blood pressure; painful joints; breathing difficulties; anxiety and early development of other diseases.

International health research4 and clinical guidelines5 recommend that children with obesity are offered treatment early in their life in an effort to reduce health complications and the risk of future disease. Evidence based treatment should be available to children in their community and in children’s hospitals depending on the severity of their obesity.

In Ireland we do not know whether children with obesity can get treatment and if they can, where treatment is offered, what it involves and how children and their parents feel about the treatment they receive. We also do not know what health professionals believe is important for their local context in order to offer quality treatment for childhood obesity.

Previous related work

In 2020 the Obesity Research and Care Group at RCSI conducted the Sláintecare needs assessment survey among healthcare professionals in Ireland which related to the provision of health professional training and education for childhood obesity. The Childhood Obesity LANDSCAPE Project follows on from that work with the aim of furthering knowledge on factors that can facilitate or hamper the provision and access to treatment services for children and adolescents with obesity. Completing this survey and taking part in this focus group will enable our research group to delve deeper into the experiences and insights of health professionals and healthcare managers so that services can be improved in an informed and collaborative manner.

The Childhood Obesity LANDSCAPE Project has been funded by the Health Research Board of Ireland’s Applied Partnership Award and the Health Service Executive. Dr Grace O’Malley, RCSI is the principal investigator, and Sarah O’Brien, HSE is the lead knowledge user.

For further information in relation to this survey, please see the Survey Participant Information Sheet available more about survey

For further information in relation to this focus group, please complete the Focus Group Expression of Interest Form go to form here and the Focus Group Participant Information Sheet go to sheet. If you leave your contact information and consent to being invited, you will be provided with more information about this part of the project in due course.



1Mitchell L, Bel-Serrat S, Stanley I, Hegarty T, McCann L, Mehegan J, Murrin C, Heinen M, Kelleher C. (2020). The Childhood Obesity Surveillance Initiative (COSI) in the Republic of Ireland – Findings from 2018 and 2019.

2Layte R, McCrory C. Growing Up in Ireland – National Longitudinal Study of Children: Overweight and Obesity Among 9-Year-Olds. Dublin, Stationery Office; November 2011.

3Bel Serrat S, Heinen MM, O’Malley G, Mehegan J, Murrin C, Kelleher CK. Trends in the prevalence of childhood obesity and morbid obesity in the Republic of Ireland – The Childhood Obesity Surveillance Initiative in 2008, 2010, 2012 and 2015. Obesity Facts 2018;11(Suppl 1):43. DOI:10.1159/000497797.

4Ells, L.J., Rees, K., Brown, T. et al. Interventions for treating children and adolescents with overweight and obesity: an overview of Cochrane reviews. Int J Obes 2018;42, 1823–1833. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41366-018-0230-y.

5National Clinical Guideline Centre (UK). Obesity: Identification, Assessment and Management of Overweight and Obesity in Children, Young People and Adults. NICE clinical guidance 189. London: National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (UK); November 2014.

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28th European Congress on Obesity 2021

4-day online learning platform held by The European Association for the Study of Obesity (EASO) in Summer 2021 and involving members of the RCSI Sláintecare team.

The 28th European Congress on Obesity (ECO) was held virtually as a 4-day online learning platform in Summer 2021. Members of the RCSI Sláintecare team presented their latest research on obesity and chaired sessions throughout the congress. This included the ‘Physical Fitness and Physical Activity’ session chaired by Dr Grace O’Malley on Day 2 of the congress which focused on ‘Childhood and Adolescent Obesity’. Mckenzie Dow (PhD Candidate) provided insight on the ‘Growing Up in Ireland’ data in relation to self-concept across Body Mass Index (BMI) categories and the need to think about protective factors that may be in place to maintain positive self-concept for children with obesity and at risk of low self-concept.

Dr O’Malley also highlighted important aspects of eHealth for children living with obesity including the necessity of documenting adverse events, safety and cost in all trials and treating patients as humans with their own preferences related to monitoring health outcomes beyond BMI. Furthermore, Dr O’Malley described how to capture meaningful data for modelling overweight and obesity outcomes and how perceptions of treatment can differ amongst service-users; outlining the significance of asking service-users about the meaning of treatment to them in order to inform personalised care.

Louise Tully, another member of the RCSI Obesity Care and Research Group presented her work on Barriers and facilitators for implementing paediatric telehealth: rapid review of user perspectives (Full paper available Here). Ms Tully’s research emphasised the need to assess accessibility and practicality of paediatric telehealth interventions with all users before implementation and to ensure that nobody loses access to care through digitalisation of services. This work was complemented by patient representatives who provided their views on how digital technologies have helped during the Covid-19 lockdowns to include those who cannot travel to appointments or support meetings due to physical issues and how delivering online services can help overcome some financial barriers of face-to-face appointments.

The European Association for the Study of Obesity (EASO) as organisers of ECO actively encouraged the use of people first language. Anyone submitting an abstract to the congress had to first read and accept an abstract submission briefing note on person first language. Included in this briefing was the definition:
Person-first language is the standard for respectfully addressing people with chronic diseases, rather than labelling them by their illness. Whatever disease a person may have, it may not define them as persons or individuals. So rather than saying “obese people” we should rephrase this term aspeople with obesity”.

The patient’s voice was well represented and welcomed throughout the congress with many sessions featuring people with obesity as presenters or panelists. The European Coalition for People living with Obesity (ECPO) delivered several sessions aimed at empowering congress delegates to advocate for those with obesity and ensure the patient perspective is represented in research, policy and guidelines. Additionally, raising awareness and knowledge of the harmful impact of weight bias and stigma was a clear and resounding message throughout.

Communication workshops during the congress were valuable opportunities for healthcare professionals, researchers and other delegates to develop knowledge about discussing weight and obesity. Dr Michael Crotty a General Practitioner (GP) from Ireland, conducted role play examples of a GP communicating about weight in the clinical setting with ECPO patient representatives Susie Birney (Ireland) and Andrew Healing (UK). The Communicating Science Workshop which also featured Dr Michael Crotty offered excellent insight and information on developing translational science tools to support engagement and uptake of information, tailoring scientific messages for public engagement, becoming a public figure in communicating science and getting messages across in broadcast media.

EASO hope to host ECO as an in-person event in 2022 in Maastricht, the Netherlands.
Further details about ECO2021 can be viewed find out more about ECO2021