Obesity has reached epidemic proportions according to the World Health Organisation and it is estimated that, by 2015, 2.3 billion adults will be overweight and more than 700 million of these will be obese (WHO 2006). Obesity is now a concern not only of Western societies, but also of the developing world. If immediate action is not taken, millions of people will suffer from associated co-morbidities including cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer, osteoarthritis and psychological diseases. Some of these pathologies are linked more closely with fat distribution than with fat quantity. As there is currently no immediate solution to the worldwide obesity epidemic, the dissemination of knowledge and understanding that leads to improving obesity education and its delivery in community settings, plays a fundamental role in tackling the obesity problem. In particular health promotion interventions that target children and young people have the potential to lay the foundations for a healthy lifestyle that may be sustained into adulthood and passed on to future generations (UK White Paper "Choosing Health- Making Healthier Choices Easier"). This is particularly true for young adults and/or individuals in remote areas, who traditionally have been difficult to reach.
This project, outside the formal education system, has made science accessible to a varied public as well as providing a new dimension for two-way communication between the scientific community and public audiences.
"Fat Body Slim: Shape Matters!" exhibit
"Fat Body Slim: Shape Matters!" (www.fatbodyslim.org) is a unique interactive science exhibit created by a team of scientists within the Institute for Health and Welfare Research, Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen, in 2010 to take part in the 350th Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition in London. The exhibit was selected on the basis of the merit of the science and research undertaken by institute members in the area of obesity and associated co-morbidities. Following on from this success, the exhibit was transformed into a science "road show" targeted at local communities and young adults, with the support of a Science Engagement grant from the Scottish Government.
The exhibit aimed to increase awareness of the health risks associated with obesity and to improve the knowledge and understanding of the role played by body shape, body composition, and fat tissue in the development of diseases associated with obesity through active engagement with the audience. The exhibit has been designed specifically to address two very important points: to actively engage and inspire the audience, and to provide an informal learning opportunity. Each part of the exhibit motivates the audience to talk and reflect, challenges them with quizzes and puzzles and provides different sensory experiences and inspirational "up front" science. It explains and answers many of the myths surrounding weight gain, body image and health, and provides scientific evidence on how important it is to correctly assess body shape and body composition during weight management and how small molecules produced by fat tissue could be involved in the development of co-morbidities.
By learning informally about the "good and bad of fat" and understanding why excess fat in the body is not just a case of how people look, the audience becomes more aware of the many health complications associated with a few kilos of weight gain. As a result, they are more inclined to adopt a healthier lifestyle and engage in physical activities to prevent weight gain later in life. The exhibit has changed the way thousands of people think about what being overweight or obese means, and gets them thinking about how body weight and fat distribution directly affect our health. In response to the question "What have you learned today from the exhibition?", in our feedback form, we received answers such as:
• "What a healthy BMI is and the difference between overweight and obese was very thought provoking."
• "Good for getting a real idea of our 'perceptions' of obesity and what 5lb fat actually looks like."
Responses like this are exactly in line with the aims of the exhibit and bear testament to the difference we have made in people's understanding of the deeper meaning of obesity.
Project success and statistics:
The project's success is due to the commitment and enthusiasm of the Fat Body Slim Team, led by Dr Giovanna Bermano and including, among others, Drs Marie Goua and Julie Young, which has brought together academics, postgraduate research and undergraduate students from a broad range of backgrounds relevant to obesity (i.e. nutrition, molecular, cellular and physiological sciences), biomechanics and art, along with University departments (Design and Print, Media and Communication) to create a package that delivers the science behind obesity in a thought provoking way.
In nine months, "Fat Body Slim: Shape Matters!" has travelled from Shetland to Brighton with the majority of its activity focusing on the North and North East of Scotland. The Team has visited 23 venues, covered 4,701 miles and reached over 22,000 school children and members of the local community in Scotland. On top of this, we have encountered over 75,000 people at science festivals in London (Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition and Big Bang Fair), Brighton (Brighton Science Festival) and Edinburgh (Edinburgh International Science Festival and part of the BBC’s Bang Goes The Theory interactive tent).
Having successfully taken the exhibit on the road, and having witnessed the impact on school children, families and the general public, we want to translate the exhibit into a web based educational package which will preserve the interactive nature of the activities and scientific soundness. We believe that this approach will be more accessible to school groups, individual children, families and people in the work place, and will reach a much broader audience worldwide. This will be possible if we are awarded €5,000 as it will contribute towards the cost of staff time and resources needed to develop the web based educational package. People that have encountered Fat Body Slim have changed the way they think about fat tissue and its distribution within the body, and improved their understanding of the science behind obesity, allowing them to make more informed choices about lifestyle and nutrition.