04 Mar 2022

On World Obesity Day, BDA Obesity Specialist Group committee member Mary O’Kane reflects on the value of the multi-disciplinary approach in the treatment of severe and complex obesity, and the importance of ensuring that the person living with obesity remains the focus.

As a dietitian, I enjoy being a member of the multi-disciplinary team and a member of many different professional societies, all of which are passionate about improving the services to people living with obesity. I believe that we can accomplish more by working in partnership.

To quote the European Association of Obesity (EASO), “Obesity is a complex chronic disease influenced by multiple genetic, environmental, physiological and psychological factors”. I have been fortunate to support patients in Leeds in both the medical obesity and bariatric surgery clinics, and have worked alongside physicians, surgeons, psychiatrists, psychologists, behavioural nurse specialists, physiotherapists and commissioners over the years. We have learned from each other, and improved our patient pathways and therefore hopefully the patient experience.

For dietitians working in obesity, we have the BDA Obesity Specialist Group (OSG). The committee reflects the diversity in dietetic roles in obesity with members working in different organisations including the NHS, academia, research, industry, commercial groups, and private practice. As volunteers, the committee are kept very busy representing the membership on various consultations, developing resources, providing education and training, and networking and collaborating with other societies.

In addition to being BDA members, many dietitians are members of the Association for the Study of Obesity (ASO). The regular meetings, in addition to being excellent educational events, provide a fantastic opportunity to network with other healthcare professionals, researchers, academics and patient advocates. As ASO members, we are also members of EASO and the World Obesity Federation (WOF).

Along with other dietitians working in bariatric surgery, including Denise Thomas, Nerissa Walker, Jenny Devine (nee Hughes) and Gail Pinnock, we recognised the importance of working with the British Obesity and Metabolic Surgery Society (BOMSS), and presented our case for BOMSS endorsed dietetic resources. This was the start of a collaboration with BOMSS opening up to dietitians becoming members.

We now have three integrated health (IH) voting seats on the committee. I am honoured to have served two terms of office, leading the development of the first BOMSS nutritional guidelines published in 2014, followed by its update in 2020. BOMSS. The BDA has a Memorandum of Understanding reflecting the close collaboration between the two societies. BOMSS provides training and support to IH members and is valuable for dietitians working in the bariatric surgery field.  Sally Abbott is the current dietetic representative.

As BOMSS members, we are automatically members of the International Federation for the Surgery for Obesity and Metabolic Diseases (IFSO). It has a large IH membership, enabling international networking and collaboration. IFSO works collaboratively with the WOF and World Gastroenterology Organisation, improving services to people with severe and complex obesity. IH members are active in developing resources and guidelines, and delivering training and education. We have two seats on the executive board.

Through participation as a committee member in NICE CG49 Obesity, NICE CG180 Obesity and other national organisations, I became very much aware of the importance of patient and public involvement (PPI), in our work. Ken Clare was the first patient advocate that I met many years ago. Ken is Chair is chair of EASO-ECPO European Coalition for People Living with Obesity and a Trustee of ASO. Through organisations such as NICE, EASO-ECPO, Obesity UK, Obesity Empowerment Network and ICPO, I know many more patient advocates who are actively working to make sure views are represented and to contribute to the training and education of healthcare professionals. Our BDA OSG annual conference includes input from people living with obesity.

As dietitians working in obesity, we can develop, be supported and learn from others by being active members of multi-professional societies, and engaging with patient and public involvement. I would encourage all dietitians, regardless of the specialty, to become active in other societies. Together, we can achieve so much more.

BDA Blogs


Mary O’Kane, MSc, FBDA

Honorary Consultant Dietitian, Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust