Retired – Though Not Quite Done Yet!

The COVID epidemic has no doubt disrupted business as usual in virtually every aspect of our lives. Some have been hit harder than others, some have struggled while others have thrived. Although perhaps not the most serious problem, the epidemic has certainly had a profound effect on clinical and academic life – most of us had to virtually overnight adapt to virtual clinics, teaching, and research. 

As every major life event, the epidemic was also a chance to rethink and perhaps redirect professional (and sometime personal) life plans. In my case, this has led me to take the rather drastic step of requesting early-retirement from my tenured university position at the University of Alberta, in order to eventually move closer to my family and aging parents in Berlin (my home town). 

As you may imagine, giving up a secure university position in a time of global crisis, was not an easy choice. On the other hand, this is in fact the third time that I have given up a secure tenured position as professor in favour of seeking new pastures. Oddly enough, these decisions have been far less disconcerting to me than to my friends and family, who generally responded with rather profound shock (“you must be nuts”!).

However, this time around things may be a bit different. After spending virtually all my professional life in the ivory tower of academia, deciding now to try my hand at freelancing as a consultant, strategic advisor, and all-round visionary, is going to be an interesting ride. 

No doubt I am counting on my considerable experience, well-established reputation (notoriety?), and, perhaps, a few notable contributions to the field of obesity to help me manoeuvre this next stage of my professional life. 

Some of you may recall that the my ruminations on the issue of weight bias, the inadequacy of BMI, the etiological framework for obesity, the importance of mental health, the need for accommodation, the Edmonton Obesity Staging System, the 4Ms of obesity assessment, the 5As of obesity management – all of these ideas originated from my postings on these very pages. You may also recall that I have long championed changing the very definition of obesity to one that aligns itself with the clinical definition of a chronic disease rather than just a matter of size. Some of you are probably also aware that the tiny organisation I founded with a few colleagues back in 2006 has now grown into Obesity Canada, one of the most recognisable and influential national obesity organisations in the world. (Incidentally, after almost 15 years of service, I also recently retired from my role as Scientific Director of this organisation, leaving it both in good hands and financially sounder than it has ever been).

Certainly my track record in research with over 450 peer-reviewed publications in areas as diverse as genetics, adipose tissue biology, human physiology, body composition, nutrition, pharmacology, surgery, epidemiology, clinical practice, health policy, stigma and discrimination speaks for itself. 

Over the years I have also had the chance to develop considerable experience in public engagement and advocacy, not least to change the narrative of what obesity is and what we need to do about it. 

So yes, I’m officially “retired” but far from done. In the end it all comes down to focussing on what I appreciate doing the most, i.e. exploring new ideas and opportunities, pushing boundaries, challenging conventional wisdom, thinking out aloud, and perhaps most importantly, speaking up for what’s good and right. 

This career move (if you could consider it as such) would probably not have happened with out a considerable “nudge”* from SARS-Cov-2 – whether or not I will eventually owe personal gratitude to this virus remains to be seen. 

If nothing else, with the extra time now on my hands, I hope to once again blog more frequently than over the past months – after all, there is certainly enough happening in the obesity world to think and write about. 

Let’s have some fun with this!


*Incidentally, on Tue 29 June, 16.30-18.00 (CEST), I will be on a panel discussing the power of “nudge marketing” as a behaviour change intervention targeting HCPs at the 2021 Annual Conference of the Healthcare Communications Association (HCA)