Champions are central to OEN’s vision for improving the health and lives of people living with obesity. We spoke with OEN founding member and Champion, Maggie Clinton, about the Champion role and our conversation formed the basis for this post.
What is the role of an OEN Champion?
The primary role of a Champion is to represent the aims and objectives of OEN UK by raising awareness about the issues faced by people living with obesity. Probably the most important of these issues is the stigma and prejudice experienced by so many. As experts we can draw on our lived experience and present it to professionals who might not be aware that they are stigmatising particular patient groups in their practice.
It’s also crucial that we have a voice at a government level. There are Champions that sit on All-Party Parliamentary Groups (APPGs), influencing decisions and policy development at government level. This has been a significant part of the role as obesity has received attention as part of public health policy from the government in recent years. At first, I felt nervous about speaking up at Westminster, but it soon became apparent that as Champions we are experts, and as such we are able to share with the MP’s the true facts about obesity and dismiss myths.
Another aspect of the role is to be a resource for people in our own local regions. This is an area we’re still developing and hence we are recruiting Champions so that we are distributed around the UK. Champions will be able to work in their regions, identifying what is happening in terms of weight management services and drawing attention to issues of inequality and stigma. They are also able to support new Champions and individuals living with obesity in their region with taking their own steps to advocate for access to treatment such as writing to their MP or to a commissioning body. In some cases, Champions provide a friendly ear to others in their area experiencing difficulties with their weight and giving an encouraging nudge to see their GP with more confidence and guidance as to what to say.
This latter part of the OEN Champion role in the community is in its infancy and we still have a long way to go. However, we are making progress and have a steady stream of people making inquiries about becoming Champions. It is, of course, something which initially seems quite daunting and people don’t necessarily think they have the ability and skills for such a role. But the role is all about empowering the voice of people living with obesity and as Trustee with responsibility for Champion recruitment, I am passionate about enabling people to grow and develop into the Champion role so that they can then encourage others in the future.
Why are OEN UK Champions so valuable?
Honestly, I believe Champions are the real experts in obesity. They have the lived experience. Obesity is so complex and those with experience can draw on it to understand all the different aspects of the condition: physiological, psychological and practical. Champions therefore have crucial insight into the services that could and should be provided for people with obesity. They really understand what will and won’t work. They know what will help and what will harm, and this insight is extremely valuable to those developing, commissioning and providing services.
Nadya Isack, London Champion, speaking on stigma and advocating for people living with obesity at the launch of the Barnet Health Path, at the Hendon City Hall, in 2018.
Champions are particularly remarkable in their ability to tell their own story. You can hear a pin drop when a Champion stands up and speaks to professional bodies with an audience of 200-300 people. In the future, OEN champions will probably be sought out not just to attend but to lead conferences. We’re working towards this through OEN.
We’ve had a Champion directly influence the government to put obesity on the agenda for discussion in one of the UK countries through tenaciously contacting local MPs. I hope that in the future, health services such as GP practices, community services and weight management services will embrace the idea of working with Champions and benefiting from their expertise to inform care provision. As you can see, there are so many different ways we can be working, but it’s important that we grow and work in ways that meet the current needs of people who have obesity.
Who can be a Champion and why might someone want to become a Champion?
Anyone can become a Champion if they have got some understanding of the lived experience of obesity and the issues that those living with obesity face – physically, psychologically and socially. Our Champions might also include those who understand what it is like to live with obesity because they are a parent, caregiver, family member or partner to someone living with obesity. Developing an appropriate focus for young people is firmly on our agenda. One of our aims is to empower young people with an understanding of what it is like to live with obesity, to become Champions, perhaps through working with a Champion with experience. You don’t have to come with loads of confidence to be a Champion. We will help you to grow and develop. People get involved as Champions for OEN UK because they understand what it’s really like for somebody living with obesity and they want to work alongside others to bring change. You can read the full OEN mission statement here.
How could I become a Champion?
If you would be interested in becoming a Champion, please contact us to find out more. You can do this through the enquiries email address, firstname.lastname@example.org. We are waiting to hear from you.
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 fifth 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, Five Minutes with Pinki Sahota, People, Patients and Professionals and Working to improve preventative and treatment strategies for obesity.