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An innovative course aiming to address the rise in obesity

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The College of Contemporary Health is launching a multidsiciplinary Postgraduate Certificate in Obesity Care to improve access to care and support in non-specialist settings

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The College of Contemporary Health (CCH) is a brand new education provider aiming to tackle a range of increasingly urgent health issues. The college was set up to use innovations in online learning technology to train the large numbers of professionals needed to address the growing incidence of health problems related to 21st-century lifestyles.

The first issue CCH is tackling is obesity, the incidence of which is growing rapidly worldwide. The condition is a healthcare priority because it is associated with a wide range of long-term conditions that negatively affect individuals’ health and quality of life, and place an increasing burden on the nation’s overstretched health and social care services. CCH is committed to reducing the burden of obesity by training health professionals from a range of disciplines in the causes of, and solutions to, obesity, and to increase their understanding of behavioural issues associated with the problem. This is intended to give people who are living with obesity wider access to more support in a range of healthcare settings.

The college’s first course, a massive open online course, launched in early April, saw over 700 health professionals and people living with, or affected by, obesity sign up to the free four-week programme. It is now preparing to launch its first postgraduate course for health professionals and others with appropriate professional experience. This is a Postgraduate Certificate (PG Cert) in Obesity Care. Val Bullen, Director of Education at CCH, says the interprofessional nature of its courses is crucial to effectively addressing obesity. “There are many papers from organisations such as the Royal Colleges highlighting the lack of effective interprofessional education. Health professionals usually work together in their own specialties, and when they participate in multidisciplinary teams it can take time for the different members to understand each other’s contribution. By enabling them to undertake education together we hope to help break down these barriers so that people can work together more effectively.”

The PG Cert, which launches on 19 May and runs over 10 weeks, consists of three online modules addressing different aspects of obesity (see Box 1). The modules will run concurrently, so students can choose the order in which they wish to study them. An innovative aspect of the course design is the requirement for students to work with and share information with their peers who are studying other modules. This encourages them to interact using CCH’s student forums, and ensures they connect the issues within each module to form a coherent body of knowledge and skills.

New materials for each module will be released on a weekly basis and will be available throughout the duration of the course, giving students flexibility over their study time. While each module has a different emphasis, all three focus on the use of motivational interviewing and use case studies to relate students’ learning to professional practice. Each module involves a range of online learning methods including discussion forums and the Values Exchange platform that underpins The National Conversation, launched by CCH in January. “I have past personal experience of obesity, so I am only too well aware that it is an extremely complex problem,” says Mrs Bullen. “There is never a single cause, and simply repeating the mantra of ‘eat less, exercise more’ just doesn’t work. If we fail to address the underlying psychological and emotional issues we can’t expect people to lose weight and maintain that loss. If it were so simple we wouldn’t have this problem.”

“In my own case I began eating for comfort after a family bereavement, and the comfort I experienced was probably because as a child I was given chocolate whenever I had earned a reward. Helping people to control their weight involves understanding these kinds of underlying issues. The number of people living with obesity - and the complexity of the problem - means we need health professionals in all areas who understand it.”

The PG Cert will equip students with the skills and knowledge they need to help patients own their problem, understand what has led to their obesity, and take charge of their own health with the support of knowledgeable and skilled professionals. The course content has been developed to comply with key documents from the Medical Royal Colleges, the Royal College of Nursing, and other Royal Colleges together with national standards and guidance to ensure it is based on current best practice, and students will have access to high-quality academic support and learning materials.

As an organisation dedicated to using online methods to deliver its courses, CCH has a major advantage over many academic institutions that only offer face-to-face teaching. “We don’t need the people contributing or participating in our courses to be available for classroom sessions, which has enabled us to recruit some of the UK’s top experts in the obesity field to help us deliver the course” says Mrs Bullen. CCH is currently in discussion with a number of universities to finalise academic validation for the PG Cert.

This academic validation is expected to be finalised by the end of the year and will mean students can use the modules as part of a Master’s degree. The experiences of the first cohort of students will be used as part of the process of gaining validation, so their work will be validated retrospectively. This is normal practice with innovative educational programmes, and offers students a unique opportunity to help shape the course. In recognition of their input the first cohort to study the PG Cert will be offered a significant discount on the normal full course fee of £2,850. This introductory offer of £999 is only available for the first 150 successful applicants.

The second intake for the course will be in September, and CCH plans to progress to continuous enrolment as soon as the course is fully established; this will enable health professionals to begin studying whenever it suits them. CCH’s online delivery model will offer prospective students unrivalled flexibility and allow them to fit their studies around work and family commitments, or their own study preferences.

CCH will launch a Postgraduate Diploma in Obesity Care later in 2014, offering a further three elective modules to build on those in the PG Cert, while health professionals can also enrol for single modules for professional development purposes. Those doing single modules will receive certificates of attainment, and CCH is also seeking accreditation from professional bodies for single modules.

As obesity increases in incidence and its burden on both individuals and resources grows, the UK needs health professionals in all settings who understand the complex issues underlying it on both an individual and national level. CCH’s innovative methods of enabling a range of professionals to work in collaboration, and its high-quality course content, will equip its students to lead the way in reducing the human and financial costs of obesity.


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Box 1

Topics covered in Obesity Care

Obesity: Causes and Consequences
This module reviews the physiology of adipose tissue and the pathological, emotional and economic consequences of obesity together with the impact of the obesogenic environment and changes in lifestyle

Obesity: The Solutions?
This module reviews the typical approaches of diet and exercise to ascertain the strengths and weaknesses of the various approaches and consider the need for support at personal, local and governmental levels

Obesity: Behavioural Aspects
This module reviews emotional and psychological issues around eating and obesity, together with the effects of social stigmas attached to being fat, and their impact on the ability to lose weight and maintain that loss

● To find out more about The College of Contemporary Health, and to sign up to the Postgraduate Certificate in Obesity Care, visit


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