Obesity Organizations Partner to Train New Specialists

The Obesity Society and Obesity Medicine Association are working with pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk to launch 10 new fellowship programs.

Obesity rates in the United States are growing, and with it the demand for doctors who specialize in its treatment. A new partnership between the field’s two leading associations is designed to address that gap.

Last month, the Obesity Society (TOS) and Obesity Medicine Association (OMA) announced that they had created the Obesity Medicine Fellowship Development Program, which is designed to provide seed funding and support for obesity medicine programs at hospitals. The associations estimate that while five such programs already exist, approximately 50 are needed to address the scope of the problem, which affects 40 percent of U.S. adults and 20 percent of U.S. children. The new program is intended to bring the number of programs up to 15 in the next few years.

The program is the latest step in a process to improve obesity medicine that started in 2011, said Dr. Lee M. Kaplan, TOS board vice president and director of the Obesity, Metabolism and Nutrition Institute at Massachusetts General Hospital. That year marked the establishment by the two associations of a separate entity, the American Board of Obesity Medicine, which certifies doctors in the field. The new fellowship program operates separate from ABOM, he said, but is created with a mind toward training doctors to receive the certification.

We’re not just giving money to start a fellowship and then watching the fellowship programs disappear.

“What the fellowship does, is it’s a full-time experience that has a curriculum and can give the full breadth of knowledge in this discipline,” Kaplan said.

TOS and OMA had been talking about ways to expand training in the years since ABOM was established, but last year the two organizations learned that the pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk was looking for ways to support the discipline as well. The two groups applied for funding from the company through another newly established group, the Obesity Medicine Fellowship Council, which manages the funding received from the company. The separate group, Kaplan said, is designed to “provide some kind of commonality to the different fellowship programs, develop a standardized curriculum, and determine who should get the funds from the fellowship development grant.”

That support system is important, Kaplan said, because while the funding is enough to help launch 10 new programs, those programs will need to find ways to sustain themselves over time. “We’re not just giving money to start a fellowship and then watching the fellowship programs disappear after the money runs out,” he said. “We are giving money to institutions who are making a commitment to education and training in this area on their own. We’re just helping to kickstart that.”

Because the work on the program is distributed across different organizations and grant-supported, it should have little impact on TOS’ own resources, Kaplan said. And he added that the degree of cooperation between the groups is one of its main virtues.

“What this effort does is it shows that when a group of people with an important area to pursue—such as obesity—get together, you can coalesce within a very short period of time,” he said.

(Sasha_Suzi/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Mark Athitakis

By Mark Athitakis

Mark Athitakis, a contributing editor for Associations Now, has written on nonprofits, the arts, and leadership for a variety of publications. He is a coauthor of The Dumbest Moments in Business History and hopes you never qualify for the sequel. MORE

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