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International HAES Team–Enhancing Research Capacity

by Jacqui Gingras, PhD, RD and Julie Rochefort, MHSc, RD

In January, Jacqui Gingras had the opportunity to apply for a grant from the Dean’s Office of the Faculty of Community Services (one of five Faculties at Ryerson University) for some money that would enable a new international team to form and develop a research grant. The team would then submit their proposal to the Canadian Institute of Health Research (Spring 2014) in order to systematically conduct a large-scale project on some collectively derived research question. We immediately thought of our HAES® friends from all parts of the world, some of whom we had met previously and some we had not, and we got to work writing the grant. Our idea would be to bring some amazing thinkers into one room and let scholar-magic happen. We put out this idea to our colleagues, and they recommended some others we should also invite and we submitted our grant request to the Dean’s Office.

A few short months later, we received word from the Dean’s Office that we received the grant! We were very excited. Building on a long tradition of working collaboratively to set new critical directions for HAES, a small group of HAES® positive researchers, practitioners, students, and policy-makers joined together to set the path for a new line of inquiry.

So with Julie Rochefort as our research coordinator, we set to arranging flights and accommodations. Several people contacted us asking if they could join in. We made some creative adjustments to the budget and asked people to make some compromises. Before long, instead of having some of our team from Australia, California, and the UK join in by Skype, they were flying directly to Toronto to be there in person.

The plan for the day was to have us all meet and get right down to work answering the questions of our facilitator, Dr. Cristina Catallo, listening to the results of a literature review by Sarah Garbe, hearing the results of the participant survey from Julie, and finally focusing on drafting our research question. As we gradually assembled in a classroom, waiting for the coffee to brew, we casually introduced ourselves to those we had never met. Eventually everyone arrived, as did the coffee, and we got started in earnest. Jacqui asked everyone to introduce themselves by saying where they were from, what they did, and one thing about themselves they usually didn’t share. Some intrepid soul started, and before long we were feeling the powerful connection when a group of like-minded people has found their happy place.

Following introductions, Sarah Garbe presented findings from her review of the literature on social movements, which she defined as a group of individuals with similar interests uniting to reach a common goal.  While the research presented in Sarah’s literature did not focus on the HAES movement per se, we learned that if a social movement wants to gain momentum, grow to drive political action, and extend its influence to a larger audience, it is necessary to mobilize the necessary resources. Following Sarah’s presentation, Julie Rochefort reported the findings from a HAES Stakeholder survey that had been distributed to HAES community members identified by the group.

The HAES Stakeholder survey included questions regarding perceived facilitators (enablers) and barriers (challenges) in shifting health care practice from weight-centred to health-centred approaches. We grappled with a number of barriers that health care practitioners face in adopting a HAES perspective, including: the paucity of HAES studies and research; the public health focus on “addressing obesity”; anti-obesity research & lobby groups; workplace issues, such as fears of losing one’s job or professional practice guidelines; cultural values about thinness; and the media. We also considered all the good things that were already happening in the name of a HAES approach. Finally, we arrived at a place, a question really, that would form our draft research question:

 “How can we leverage existing HAES® stakeholder capacity to transform from a weight-based to a health-focused paradigm?”

This question will require more attention and more consultation from our community partners, but essentially, we are interested in what enables some individual health care providers and groups to adopt a HAES philosophy, while others do not. This is the question that we have become preoccupied with and if you are interested in learning more or agreeing to be a research site, you may become preoccupied with it, too.

All in all, this was an enormously necessary meeting and we wish to thank all the participants whether they came from Australia, the UK, USA, or the Greater Toronto Area for their willingness to dig in and be fully present to creating something new. Also big thanks to the Dean’s Office of the Faculty of Community Services for their financial support of the event.

If you would like more information about this initiative, please visit our International HAES Team Project blog and view the summary statement attached there. While we have your attention though, what do you think are the enablers and barriers to adopting a HAES perspective? Share your comments below…

Pictured below are many of the attendees from the June symposium.  Starting from the right and going counter-clockwise are: Gerry Kasten, Ann McConkey, Leora Pinhas, Jacqui Gingras, Julie Rochefort, Lydia Jade Turner, Lucy Aphramor, Amy Herskowitz, Linda Bacon, Kori Kostka, Michelle Morris, and Lindsey Mazur.  Missing from this photo are: Cristina Catallo Angela Cuddy, Krystal LeBreton, Caitlin O’Reilly, Deborah McPhail, Sarah Garbe, Jennifer Brady, and Maria Ricupero.

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