A look back at 2018 for plant-based health professionals UK

Plant-based health professionals UK (PBHP UK) was conceived in October 2017 at London Vegfest in a chance meeting between myself (Shireen Kassam) and Tom Hubbard, a GP based in Ireland. We realised we had a shared passion for promoting plant-based nutrition for the prevention and treatment of chronic disease but were yet to find a way to share this message with the wider medical community. So, we decided there and then to start an organisation and that we would launch by holding the first medical conference in the UK to focus on plant-based nutrition.

So, 2018 started off with planning and organising the conference. It led us to meet a number of inspiring health professionals already promoting plant-based nutrition in their own areas of practice. Without much effort at all, a whole programme of speakers was conceived. Initial worries about tickets sales soon disappeared when, through facebook advertising alone, the conference sold out 5 weeks before the date resulting in a long waiting list. The conference took place on March 23rd 2018 at King’s College Hospital, London and was a great success. It brought together health professionals and members of the general public who shared the same vision of harnessing the power of plant-based nutrition to prevent and reverse chronic disease. For many the conference validated their own diet choices. For others it gave them the confidence to go back into clinical practice and share this knowledge with patients and clients knowing there was genuine support in the UK. You can read more about the conference here.

Speakers at the medical conference on March 23rd 2018

Whole food plant-based lunch at the conference on March 23rd 2018

Whilst planning for the London conference the founder of Go Vegan Scotland, Barbara Bolton, reached out to us and asked if we would bring a similar conference to Glasgow. She was involved in organising the annual conference of the International Vegan Rights Alliance, so we agreed to have a simultaneous conference to facilitate networking and knowledge sharing. Our second conference was fixed before we had even held our first. It took place at Glasgow Royal Infirmary on June 30th 2018 and again was a sold out event.

Speakers at the Glasgow conference June 30th 2018

Whilst organising the two conferences, we heard through the plant-based community that Dr Kim Williams, past President of the American College of Cardiologists, long-term vegan and advocate for plant-based diets, was often willing to give a talk in London during the Wimbledon tennis tournament (he was a semi-professional player himself and still an avid follower of the game). So we reached out to him and he kindly agreed to give a talk in London on diet and cardiovascular disease. The best date turned out to be the day after the Glasgow conference, so there was a mad dash back to London in time to host Dr Williams at King’s College Hospital on 1st July 2018. We also invited Dr Dagfinn Aune, from Imperial College London, to talk on diet and health. He has authored some of the seminal papers in the field, demonstrating without a doubt that a diet centred around whole plant-foods is associated with optimal health and longevity. Another great event with now familiar faces in the audience. It was a rare opportunity to meet and learn from a plant-based cardiologist as we are yet to identify one of this elusive breed in the UK!

Dr Kim Williams and Dr Shireen Kassam July 1st 2018

Dr Dagfinn Aune and Dr Shireen Kassam July 1st 2018

With the launch events over and confidence that there was a demand for education in the field of plant-based nutrition in the UK, we were ready to take the next steps. However, it became clear that Tom and I had a different vision for the organisation and agreed to go our separate ways. We fully acknowledge that without each other neither of us would have started on our plant-based journey and are immensely grateful for our chance meeting in 2017. Tom has gone on to found a similar organisation with his colleagues in Ireland and I look forward to collaborating with them in the future.

So I began putting a team together. I didn’t have to seek anyone out as such. Our paths crossed for different reasons and the team grew organically. There are now 12 advisory board members of PBHP UK, all dedicating time and expertise for free. We have a shared mission to educate health professionals and the general public on healthy plant-based nutrition and facilitate its use within clinical practice. It is a multi-professional group with doctor, nursing, dietician and patient representation. You can find out more about the team here. They have helped with so many things this year, including our amazing new logo (Kate Dundar), the website (Marta Lewandowska), the fact sheets (Doug Bristor, Gemma Newman, Alan Desmond) and much much more. We are also grateful to our two international advisory board members Dr Kim Williams and Dr David Jenkins. They are both pioneers in the field of plant-based nutrition and their expertise is invaluable. Dr Kim Williams was the first vegan President of the American College of Cardiologists. Dr David Jenkins invented the glycaemic index and the portfolio diet.

Our new logo designed by Kate Dunbar

My initial aims were to forge relationships with organisations that share our mission. I wanted to gain credibility for PBHP UK but also believe that we cannot just work in silos. We need to collaborate and share knowledge and expertise. This will help to spread the plant-based message more widely and quickly.

To this end, we have been recognised as an aligned member organisation of the British Society of Lifestyle Medicine, who are part of the lifestyle medicine global alliance founded by the American College of Lifestyle Medicine. The lifestyle medicine movement is now growing, as health professionals recognise the impact of lifestyle on health and disease and its role in disease prevention. Nutrition is just one part of lifestyle medicine, which also includes physical exercise, stress management, sleep, avoid of toxic substances including tobacco and alcohol and loving relationships. However, we believe that nutrition is the most important part of lifestyle medicine creating the foundation for true health.

We are delighted to have achieved international recognition by being accepted as a member organisation of the True Health Initiative (THI). Founded by Dr David Katz, an internationally renowned nutrition scientist and preventative medicine physician, the THI is ‘a global movement to make the fundamental truths about healthy, sustainable living and eating common knowledge’. It promotes the six core principles of lifestyle medicine in order to ‘add years to life and life to years’.

Six core principles of lifestyle medicine as defined by the True Health Initiative

Our Australian plant-based health professional counterparts have founded a Charity called Doctors for Nutrition. We are delighted to be collaborating with them and I am one of their international advisory board members.

To gain recognition for providing high quality education, I wanted PBHP UK to work with a University. By pure chance and good fortune, I was put in touch with the Vice Chancellor of Winchester University, Professor Joy Carter. She is vegan and promotes core values at Winchester University that I can align with; ‘Compassion, Individuals Matter and Spirituality’. I met with her and a number of her fellow vegan staff members, and suggested that Winchester University consider offering a course on plant-based nutrition. Within a few weeks I had received a formal letter of appointment to the University and am now working one day a week on developing such a course, which, with the help of my plant-based friends and colleagues will hopefully go live in 2019.

Another partnership that has been forged is with Proveg International. In collaboration with Charité Medical University, the Immanuel Hospital Group, Stiftung Reformhaus-Fachakademie and the German Vegetarian Union (ProVeg Deutschland e.V.), Proveg has been holding the VegMed medical conference on plant-based nutrition in Berlin since 2012. Together, we are bringing the VegMed conference to London on 12th and 13th October 2019. This will be the first international plant-based nutrition conference to be held in the UK. Confirmed international speakers include Dr Neal Barnard, Founder and President of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine and Dr Michael Klaper, a renowned plant-based Doctor and educator. Members of the PBHP UK team will also be speaking giving the conference a UK focus. More information and tickets can be found here.

The second half of 2018 gave us the opportunity to host Dr Joel Fuhrman. A pioneer of lifestyle medicine who developed the Nutritarian diet, a diet centred around whole plant foods, low in calories yet high in micronutrients. He has helped thousands of people reverse chronic disease and regain their health. Anyone that knows of Dr Furhman, will know that he has a unique style and can at times be controversial. This can be seen in some of his classic quotes!

Dr Joel Fuhrman in London September 27th 2018

Another partnership has been to team up with Vegfest UK to bring high quality, evidence-based talks on plant-based nutrition to the Vegfest events. PBHP UK are delighted to be organising the health section of Brighton Vegfest on March 23rd/24th. We will cover all aspects of plant-based nutrition from the basics on how to ensure a plant-based diet is nutritionally complete through to its role in preventing and reversing various chronic diseases. These events attracts vegans and non-vegans alike and will give us the opportunity to provide education in an accessible and friendly environment.

We are excited to have teamed up Jay Cox from Fizzeek Media. Jay transitioned to a whole food plant based diet after completing treatment for cancer. He is passionate about promoting plant-based nutrition and it’s just our good fortune that he is also an award winning film maker (in his spare time). We have committed to making the equivalent of ‘Forks over Knives’ for the UK. We will be needing lots of help!

So how is 2019 shaping up for PBHP UK? It is already looking like a busy year. Here are some of things you should look out for and hopefully get involved with:

  1. We are launching membership. This will bring together a community of health professionals and interested members of the general public in the promotion of plant-based nutrition. There is definitely strength in numbers. Members will be able to get involved with our work, receive up to date plant-based nutrition scientific and clinical information, reduced price tickets to some events, access to PBHP UK resources and expertise and our support. So, please join today.
  2. March 23rd/24th Brighton Vegfest. PBHP UK hosting the health talks. Get your tickets here.
  3. April 13th 2019, Warrington, is our next medical conference. More information and tickets here.
  4. June 1st 2019, Canadian Health and Nutrition conference, in Toronto. This is in collaboration with my sister, Dr Zahra Kassam, a radiation oncologist in Toronto. It will bring together Canadian plant-based health professionals and the Canadian Academy of Lifestyle Medicine.
  5. June 30th 2019, London. Hosting Dr Kim Williams. More details to follow soon.
  6. October 12/13th 2019. Vegmed, London. More information and tickets here.
  7. We will be launching a regular newsletter.
  8. Sharing more patient stories about the power of plant-based nutrition.
  9. We are planning a health-related campaign so watch this space…..
  10. Making a start on our plant-based documentary.

We have many thank you’s to make to those that have supported our work. Thank you to all my plant-based friends and colleagues that contributed to our conferences and events both as speakers and attendees. A big thank you to Plant Based News for promoting our events and sharing our stories. Thank you to Roger and Carmela for videoing many of our events for free and asking for nothing in return.

Happy new year to you all and I hope you continue to join us on this plant-based journey

Shireen Kassam

January 2019