OEN UK was founded as a network by, and for, people living with obesity and professionals working in the field. This is unique to OEN. In this post, continuing the series of blogs marking the launch of the Obesity Empowerment Network Strategic Plan 2020-2023, founding member Maggie Clinton explains why this decision was made and why OEN’s fundamental commitment to collaborative working is important.

When we first sat as a group of professionals and people living with obesity, it was clear to us that people with obesity needed more support. As we thought about what could be done to improve the health and lives of people with obesity, we realised that the voice of those of us who live with obesity was missing from conversations about the condition. As people living with obesity, we needed issues that were important to us to be considered meaningfully and addressed properly.

One of the issues we discussed was how difficult it was for people with obesity to access treatment or support. As people, whether professionals or personally affected by obesity, we were aware of deep-seated bias against people with obesity which has meant that their voice is not considered, and also influenced the provision of inadequate services. It made sense for us to work hand in hand to empower the voice of people with obesity to bring change. We realised that we could do more together. The partnership has been quite organic.

Throughout the country there has been a trend to utilise what is known as ‘patient participation’ or Patient and Public Involvement (PPI). I had previously sat on a patient group at a GP practice. I had felt that there was not always a sense of equality between professionals and PPI groups. I was also left wondering whether we were really contributing on the issues which mattered to patients. In contrast, I believe that what has guided the development of OEN to where we are today is the vision of a group where patients and professionals work in a genuinely collaborative way to address the issues that really matter for people living with obesity.

I think that both the professionals and the Champions with lived experience involved in OEN learn a lot from each other. Professionals find that they benefit from understanding the experience of people living with obesity and understanding the challenges faced from their perspectives. Champions find that they benefit from understanding the evidence base concerning the underlying biological and psychological realities of obesity. This reciprocal learning is mutually beneficial. Professionals benefit by increasing knowledge and improving their practice, and Champions keep up to date with changes and developments in obesity research and treatments and speak about them in their work as Champions. I believe we have all become more confident in achieving our mission for those who live with obesity by listening and learning from one another. 

Some Champions are also Trustee members of the OEN Steering Group to ensure that the voice of those living with obesity is heard and informs OEN’s decision making. The Steering Group is a collaborative group: guiding decisions, identifying topics to address, and making decisions about where the charity is going in the future. It is vital that we have Champions making these decisions alongside professionals. As Champions, we are well placed to raise topics that need to be addressed and considered in partnership with professionals in the Group.

OEN was founded through collaboration between people living with obesity and professionals working in the field. Five years later we can see that working collaboratively works. But not only that, we remain convinced that whether we are professionals in the field or living with obesity, we need each other. Working together we can bring change. I no longer feel shame and that being obese is my fault.  I have gained strength from being a member of OEN to stand up for myself and my rights and the rights of others. I can honestly say becoming part of OEN has been joyous, to know that there are so many professionals out there fighting so hard for us is humbling.

Maggie Clinton is one of the founding members of OEN UK, a Lead Champion and Trustee for Champion Recruitment and Development. Maggie has now retired from her nursing career, having spent many years working with children, young people and adults providing care and training. She draws on this professional experience alongside her personal experience of obesity in her work for OEN UK.

This is the third in a series of blogs celebrating the launch of the OEN UK Strategic Plan 2020-2023. Other blogs include An Introduction to the Strategic Plan and Five Minutes with Pinki Sahota.

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Are you someone who has a personal experience of living with obesity? O􏰙r perhaps you are a parent of a child who is overweight or a carer or 􏰪family member of someone affected by overweight or obesity? If so,􏰠 you will know about weight stigma and the way it affects peoples􏰬 lives and healthcare.

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