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New Masters in Obesity at Leeds Beckett University

Obesity is a major public health challenge which continues to increase and disproportionally affects vulnerable population groups, resulting in widening health inequalities. People living with obesity experience higher risks of diabetes, cancer, heart disease, poor psychological health and wellbeing, and the annual cost to the NHS is considerable. There is consequently an urgent need for innovative approaches to identify and implement evidence-based policy and practice to prevent and treat obesity.

man and woman leaning on rail

The MSc Obesity develops expertise on the transdisciplinary complexity of obesity and its application to research, policy and practice through scientific study and practical skill development underpinned by the voice of the lived experience. Topics covered in the programme include the latest developments in obesity prevention and treatment strategies, health psychology and behaviour change, obesity epidemiology and data modelling, diet and nutrition, public health and systems approaches to obesity. The MSc Obesity provides a platform to pursue a career in obesity by demonstrating the ability to think and work differently to deliver the paradigm shift and transformational change required to address the individual, societal, economic, and environmental impact of obesity, to achieve more effective, equitable, compassionate person-centred obesity care. The programme is suitable for qualified undergraduates with the aspiration to pursue a career in obesity and weight management or a closely related area, and for healthcare professionals wanting to change careers or enhance their current career options.

“Offering the new Masters in Obesity is an exciting step for the Obesity Institute at Leeds Beckett University which brings together a community of leading multi-disciplinary experts and partners to deliver a unique programme of study, underpinned by the voice of lived experience. The Obesity Institute is committed to developing the next generation of compassionate, person-centred health care professionals and policy makers, equipping them with the latest advancements in the study of obesity as well as the learnings taken from decades of highly applied research in obesity here at Leeds Beckett University. The Obesity Institute has created a vibrant community committed to improving the lives of people living with obesity and we look forward to welcoming our students in September”

Saeeda Bashir, Principal Consultant Obesity Institute.

Why is it important to offer an MSc Obesity?

Current research has shown us that:

  • People living with obesity experience poor physical and psychological health and wellbeing, and the annual cost to the NHS is considerable.
  • The UK has the third highest level of obesity in Europe and third highest in the G7 with almost one in three adults and one third of children living with unhealthy excess weight or obesity.
  • Obesity does not affect all populations equally, contributing to growing health disparities.

Obesity is a national cross government priority, but despite over 30 years of government obesity policies, obesity prevalence and health inequities have not been reduced. There is consequently an urgent need for innovative approaches to identify and implement evidence-based policy and practice to prevent and treat obesity.

Obesity is described as a ‘wicked’ public health problem where causal links are not clearly defined and mechanisms operating are often unknown. Such problems are complex, unstable, a challenge to define, and difficult to resolve. Tackling such problems requires holistic, innovative, flexible approaches, and the ability to work across boundaries to effectively engage diverse stakeholders and communities to understand the problem and identify solutions. This paradigm shift in thinking and working is the foundation of our MSc Obesity which is completely novel, yet synergistic to current local, national, and international research and policy activities.

“Our new master’s programme aims to provide a cornerstone in compassionate, person-centred obesity education, research and practice. This course has been co-developed with policy and practice partners, and people living with obesity, to ensure cutting-edge obesity science is tailored to address real-world needs and priorities, underpinned by the voice of lived experience.”

Professor Louisa Ells, Co-director of the Obesity Institute

How will the MSc Obesity impact research, policy and practice?

The failure of existing efforts to curb the obesity pandemic reflects the limitations of single-solution, silo-driven approaches, and a need to think and work differently to achieve more effective, equitable, compassionate person-centred obesity care. Tackling obesity therefore requires a paradigm shift in thinking and working.

The population levels of people living with or at risk of obesity are driven by numerous interacting factors:

  • Political
  • Economic
  • Environmental
  • Social
  • Cultural
  • Digital
  • Behavioural
  • Biological determinants

The identification, implementation, and evaluation of effective responses to the prevention and treatment of obesity, therefore, requires a set of approaches that work within this complexity.

Our MSc Obesity captures and responds to the complexity through a dynamic way of working: bringing together academic (from many disciplines), policy, practice, community representatives and the voice of the lived experience to develop a ‘shared understanding of the challenge'. Every element of the programme has been co-produced from the outset to ensure a comprehensive understanding of the complexity and transdisciplinary nature of obesity and its application to research, policy and practice in the real world underpinned by the voice of the lived experience.

“One of the biggest potential dangers for those involved in planning and delivering a response to obesity at local level, is naivety”. For too long local approaches have focused on the same interventions, often passing responsibility for individuals to get to and keep a healthy weight, rather than appreciating the huge complexity of obesity and the multitude of interdependent factors which create it. As a long time, public health practitioner and commissioner of obesity services at local level, I really welcome the new MSc in obesity because it creates opportunities for the necessary learning and pause and reflect, (or even stop and deconstruct!), to make future obesity work better reflect how and why obesity is manifested in real world settings. Having worked with Leeds Beckett University on joining up research with practical implementation, I know this will be a significant and vital contribution to the future workforce”

Adrian Coggins, Head of Wellbeing and Public Health, Essex County Council

“As a person living with obesity, it’s been a real pleasure and honour to be involved in developing the MSc Obesity, at every step of the process, I have felt valued and listened too. The central role of the Obesity Voices steering group in the structure and design of the MSc from the outset is true innovation and I am confident that the programme will further the development of compassionate care for people living with or affected by obesity.”

Ken Clare, PPIE Lead, Obesity Institute, Leeds Beckett University

What can students expect on the MSc Obesity course?

Students on the MSc Obesity will:

  • Work with world-leading multi-disciplinary experts and partners of the Obesity Institute.
  • Gain an understanding of the importance of the perspectives of those living with obesity. working with the only Patient and Public Involvement and Engagement hub in the UK, Obesity Voices.
  • Explore the complexity and transdisciplinary nature of obesity and how it is applied to research, policy and practice.
  • Develop a range of practical skills, including using appropriate language, communicating effectively and facilitation.
  • Learn how to analyse, interpret and report data to wider audience.
  • Have the opportunity to integrate work experience with your academic study to enhance your employability.

“In developing the new MSc Obesity the team in the Obesity Institute has drawn on expert contributions from across a range of schools within the University, reflecting the pan-university nature of the Institute, which is complemented by the perspective of those with a lived experience of obesity.  Within the structure of the MSc we have built in considerable flexibility for students to define a pathway through the course which suits their future aspirations, be they focussed on research, policy, professional practice or some combination of these elements. Whatever pathway is followed we would expect students to go on to make positive, caring and compassionate professional contributions in their future work in obesity or other aspects of public health or social care.”

Professor Carlton Cooke, Co-Director of the Obesity Institute

To find out more about our MSc Obesity or to apply please visit:

Dr Claire Griffiths

Reader / Carnegie School Of Sport

Claire joined the Carnegie School of Sport in September 2008 as a Senior Lecturer in Physical Activity, Exercise & Health. Her main research and teaching interests are childhood obesity and physical activity / lifestyle behaviours.

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