This month's newsletter is written by guest author Faith Newsome. Faith is currently a first year PhD student at the University of Florida in the Department of Health Outcomes and Biomedical Informatics working on various projects related to obesity research.
I have experienced obesity for as long as I can remember and my weight management journey and experience with weight loss surgery is documented in a blog for the Duke University Health System. Throughout my experience as a patient, both before and after surgery, I developed a passion for patient advocacy. So much about obesity is unknown, and the patient's voice is vital in developing research questions and a deeper understanding of existing treatments. Following my surgery, I spent two summer internships as the Duke Healthy Lifestyles Clinic where I developed OCEANS (Outreach, Community, Engagement, Advocacy, Non-discriminatory, Support). I presented the concept of the organization at clinic lunches and brainstormed ideas. By the end of the summer, we had an executive team of five members, all undergraduate students at UNC-Chapel Hill or Duke University. After three years, we are now a team of nine executive team members with various projects in progress.
The premise of OCEANS is simple; we are a support and advocacy group for adolescents with obesity. We purposely avoided the term “obesity” as the title of our organization due to research showing patients do not prefer the term ‘obesity’ (although this finding has yet to be replicated in teens specifically). Our aim is to empower adolescents to act, for themselves, in their community and society, by empowering teens, raising awareness, and policy-based advocacy.
We empower individual teenagers living with obesity by offering a program called Socials, a curriculum-based monthly program that brings adolescents together to discuss the challenges and triumphs associated with weight management journeys. Currently, the Socials program is offered through partnerships with three weight management clinics: Duke Healthy Lifestyles, MUSC in South Carolina, and WakeMed Raleigh. The next phase of Socials is to launch a mobile application on our own platform, to expand our network and support even more young people.
On a community level, our “Change is Made in Waves” fund raises awareness and money for clinics or organizations across the country working in research, treatment or advocacy for adolescents living with obesity. Funding is used to enhance existing projects or design a new project specifically for teens.
On a societal level, we focus on policy-based advocacy. Our ultimate goal is to ensure the healthiest choice is the most accessible and least expensive choice. Examples of our efforts include advocacy around the built environment, such as access to healthy and fresh foods, safe places to play, and options within schools.
Founding OCEANS within a university has provided access to essential grants and mentorship opportunities. As we continue to grow outside of the university space, we are working towards hiring a full-time staff member starting in 2021.
Over the years, our team has grown. I am extremely thankful to Emily Robinson, Preethi Irukulapati, Abby Davis, Aicha Kaouss, Michael Marsack, Melissa Monroe, Emily Faw, Emily Maxwell, Kayla Delpino and Jake Nathan for serving on the executive team and contributing to OCEANS development.
We are also grateful for the clinics, organizations, and mentors that have helped guide us to where we are today. As we continue to grow and expand, we are excited to be joining the STOP Obesity Alliance as a new Associate Member. We look forward to the relationships, conversations, and resources that are available through the Alliance and are excited to work with all members contributing to advocacy and treatment in relation to obesity.