A Look Back at 2020 for Plant-based Health Professionals UK

It’s been a difficult year for us all. At PBHP UK we have had to adapt our working accordingly. Despite this we have had an exciting and productive year. These are the highlights.

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PLANT POWERED EXPO — FEBRUARY 1ST 2020: We got off to a great start with our first collaboration of the year with VegFest UK. Team members and education lead Leila Dehghan organised a packed day of talks on plant-based nutrition and health. We were delighted to involve our members who spoke on a wide range of topics, including Elena Holmes on ‘plant-based meat alternatives’, Rohini Bajekal on ‘things to know before you go vegan’, Carmela Arturi on ‘how to transition to healthy plant-based diet’, and Leila herself on ‘plant-based diets for athletes’. You can watch the recordings of the talks on our YouTube channel. Team member and communications lead Rohini Bajekal ran our stall and engaged with a large number of people during the day, signing up more than 30 new members.

The evening saw our first and only (so far) live members social where we connected with around 20 PBHP UK members. It was lovely to meet and chat to our truly diverse group of members, all committed to promoting the plant-based message.

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PLANT-BASED DIETS DISCUSSED AT THE APPG FOOD AND HEALTH — FEBRUARY 4TH 2020: PBHP UK are members of the All Party Parlimentary Group on Food and Health. It was a great pleasure to be able to present at a meeting dedicated to plant-based diets. I was joined by Prof Tim Key, Chief Investigator of the EPIC Oxford Study. The meeting was chaired by Baroness Anne Jenkins and kicked off well when she told the audience she had just watched the movie The Game Changers and along with her husband had started to transition to a plant-based diet! You can read about the meeting here and listen to my video summary of the meeting here.

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NEW TEAM MEMBERS: We have taken on 4 wonderful new team members. Sheetal Kanwar is our pharmacist representative, Linda H and Linda K our student representatives and Dr Laura Freeman who is working on a top secret project due to launch this month!

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OUR AMBASSADORS: We are exciting to welcome four ambassadors to the team. They are all promoting plant-based diets in their own work and lives and our supporting us to reacher a wider audience. You can read about them here.

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GP STUDY DAY AT KING’S COLLEGE HOSPITAL ON PLANT-BASED DIETS AND LIFESTYLE MEDICINE — MARCH 5th 2020: This was our last live event prior to the pandemic lockdowns. It brought together over 80 GPs from the local area (and further afield) to an afternoon dedicated to discussing the impact of lifestyle behaviours on the risk of chronic disease. Once again, PBHP UK members contributed to a packed programme with Dr Nitu Bajekal speaking on menopause, Dr Rajiv Bajekal on bone health, Leila Dehghan on weight management, Dr Nesan Shanmugam on cardiovascular health and myself on cancer. There was excellent engagement and feedback. As with all the events we organise, GPs were treated to a fully plant-based lunch. We only had one person complain that they wanted ‘normal milk’!

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FORTNIGHTLY WEBINAR PROGRAMME LAUNCHED APRIL 2020: The pandemic took grip in March and all our live events for the year were cancelled. This provided us with the opportunity to move our education programme online and broaden our reach. We were fortunate to receive funding from ProVeg and support from OatlyVegan Fitness and a private donation to launch our free, live webinar programme. Organised and hosted by nutritionist Rohini Bajekal, it has been a great success. We have held 19 webinars since April and reached over 5000 participants. On average, 60% of attendees were healthcare professionals and 95% voted that they found the webinar they attended Very Helpful or Extremely Helpful. On average 30% did not currently identify as following a healthy plant-based diet (but some may have been vegan). For some webinars with more general themes, this number went up to 50%. We received a number of messages throughout the year from healthcare professionals saying they were inspired to try eating a plant-based diet or make a conscious effort to reduce their meat intake, based on what they had learnt. As the year progressed, participants increasingly came from a wide number of countries including Ireland, USA, Belgium, Canada, India, the UAE, Singapore, South Africa, Poland, Spain and Finland.

All our webinars are approved for 1 hour of CPD by the British Society of Lifestyle Medicine and more recently have been approved by the American College of Lifestyle Medicine CME Approval Committee as an eligible program for CME (CPD) credit toward the Maintenance of Certification for the International Diploma of Lifestyle Medicine.

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PBHP UK MEMBERSHIP: Membership started in Janaury 2019. It’s main purpose is to grow a network of like-minded individuals who can together make a valuable contribution to education and advocacy on plant-based nutrition in the UK and abroad. Our membership is open to everyone, not just health professionals, because we recognise that everyone can play their part in this plant-based health movement. Of course, the membership fees help to run the organisation with all of the income going back into our activities and a significant proportion for running members events.

At the end of 2019 we had reached 200 members and now at the end of 2020 we have reached 600 members. Approximately two thirds are health professionals (with a few students) and a third are members of the public. This year has seen membership become truly international with members joining from Canada, USA, UAE, Singapore, Turkey, Austria, Germany and more.

This growth in membership has allowed us to deliver a number of member events run by our members, including three cooking socials, a yoga class and a monthly journal club.

We are exceedingly grateful and indebted to the wonderful support and expertise our members bring. Without their support our work would not be possible and certainly would not be so rewarding.

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IN THE MEDIA: We have had a successful year in the media, both mainstream and vegan. This is due to our collaboration with Eden Green PR. We first worked together on the No Meat May campaign that resulted in an article in the Metro urging the public to adopt a plant-based diet to help prevent future pandemics. We subsequently wrote an open letter to NHS leaders and the UK Government on World Nutrition Day 28th May 2020 urging a rapid transition to a health plant-based food system following the devastating consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. Our letter particularly focusses on the burden of chronic disease caused by unhealthy diets, which has also led to an increased risk of death from COVID-19. You can listen to our video letter and read the full letter and responses received.

We teamed up with the World Plant Milk Day campaign to highlight the need to transition away from cow’s dairy given that it has no role in health promotion and can in fact cause harm and of course is contributing to the climate crisis. Our story was covered in the Times and led to a backlash from some medical professionals, including Dr Hilary Jones. Read more about this and our response here. PBHP UK member Dr Sunni Patel and I were also included in an ITV series on the rise of plant-based milks.

We have also been interviewed for articles on lifestyle medicine for the Mirror and plant-based diets and weight loss for BBC food. All our media coverage can be found here.

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21 DAY PLANT-BASED HEALTH CHALLENGE: On World Vegetarian Day October 1st 2020, we launched our very own 21 day plant-based health challenge. This was down to the hard work of Leila Dehghan and generous funding from VegFund. This free resource delivers 21 daily emails with information on plant-based diets, menu suggestions, videos on common nutrition questions and a free recipe book. The recipes are truly international covering all common traditional cuisuines. We are exceedingly grateful to all our collaborators including Tomi Makanjuola, Rohini Bajekal, Jay Cox, Kate Dunbar and Nikas Kitchen. To date we have had over 900 people sign up, two-thirds of whom are non-vegan.

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FACTSHEETS: This year we have added a number of excellent factsheets. This is down to the hard work of our patient advocate and graphic designer Kate Dunbar and a number of PBHP UK members. Highlights include, but are not exclusively, factsheets on pregnancy and feeding vegan children by Dr Miriam Martinez-Biarge, vitamin D for vegans by Sheetal Kanwar, 10 tips for reducing bloating by Rohini Bajekal, coeliac disease and irritable bowel syndrome by Rosie Martin RD, the vegan FODMAP diet by Despina Marselou RD, portion size guide by Leila Dehghan, optimising fertility by Lisa Simon RD and coronary heart disease by Dr Noel Young. You can access all the factsheets for free here.

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WEEKLY NEWS UPDATES AND ARTICLES: I continue to provide a weekly round up of the plant-based nutrition news, which I started in Sept 2019. The aim is to keep you updated on the scientific literature so you don’t have to search through the journals yourself. This is first shared on medium.com and social media on a Sunday, and then shortly after added to the website here. We have also added a number of useful articles to the website including, plant-based meat alternatives by Lisa Simon RD, vegan diets and bone fractures and how to stock your vegan pantry by Leila Dehghan. Our growing list of articles can be found here.

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SUPPORTING VEGFEST UK: We have continued to support VegFest UK whose events have moved online. Leila Dehghan organised and hosted two panel discussions, which included a number of our PBHP UK members. The first at Summerfest on 15th August on the topic of ‘Health and Wellbeing in the time of Corona’. This included health professionals working on the COVID-19 front line and covered a number of healthy lifestyle habits from diet, exercise, to stress management, that could help us to stay healthy during and the pandemic and beyond. The second was on November 14th and featured PBHP UK dietitians and nutritionists with a discussion on ‘How To Eat For Optimal Health’. We had great engagement and even audience competitions.

CAMPAIGNS: We have supported a number of campaigns this year. Rohini Bajekal gave a speech on behalf of PBHP UK at this years Animal Rebellion actions in October. We support their demand that the UK should urgently transition to a plant-based food system for humans, planet and the animals. Read and listen to the speech here.

We have also joined forces with a coalition of women leaders who are urging Vice-President-elect Kamala Harris and the incoming administration to transition to a plant-based economy. Read more here.

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IN THE MOVIES: PBHP UK members were pleased to be featured in this years movie VEGAN 2020 by Plant Based News. Member Nitu Bajekal, ambassador Dr Chidi Nwagba and I all delivered sound bites in this film that documents the achievements and challeneges of the global vegan movement in 2020.

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AWARDS: We are thrilled and honoured to have voted the Best Vegan Initiative at this years’ VegFest UK awards. We have been great supporters and admirers of the work of VegFest UK and it is a privilege to be recognised for our work in the plant-based movement. Thank you to all of you who voted for us.

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INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCES: The UK was well represented by PBHP UK at international conferences this year, albeit online. Dr Gemma Newman spoke at the European VegMed conference, Dr Alan Desmond spoke at PCRMs annual conference and again at the Plantrician Project annual conference along with myself.

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BOOKS BY OUR TEAM MEMBERS: We are excited to support our two ambassadors Dr Gemma Newman and Dr Alan Desmond who have both written books supporting plant-based diets for optimal health and wellbeing. They are due to be released on January 7th and are excellent, so be sure to order your copy now. In addition, our International Advisory Board Member, Brenda Davis RD along with her coauthor Dr Reshma Shah, have written the book Nourish. It is a fantastic book to help you and your family thrive on a healthy plant-based diet.

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WHATS IN STORE FOR 2021? Our ambition is to become the largest membership healthcare organsition in the UK. We are off to a good start with 2021 designated the International Year of Fruits and Vegetables by the UN General Assembley, a ‘unique opportunity to raise awareness on the important role of fruits and vegetables in nutrition, food security and human and planetary health. It also aims to reduce food loss and waste and promote sustainability and safety of the fruits and vegetables value chain’. We plan to expand on our current work. Webinars will continue with a great line up for January and beyond. We will be contributing to and supporting VegFest UK events. We are also writing a edited text book on plant-based nutrition. New student team members Linda Karlberg and Linda Hamaza will work on student engagement. Sheetal Kawar our pharmacy representative will work on building a strong network of pharmacists. Dr Hayley Tait will work on making plant-based cooking accessible to health professionals and medical students so they can better support their patients. Dr Gemma Newman and I will be presenting at VegMed 2021 and Dr Alan Desomond and I will be presenting at the International Conference on Nutrition in Medicine organised by PCRM. We are looking forward to support our ambassador Kate Strong in her attempt to break a world record on a static bike on January 7th 2021. Do join the live stream and help Kate achieve this amazing goal. We will continue to film our Documentary, spearheaded by filmmaker Jay Cox. We will be supporting the Scrap Factory Farming legal challenge.

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A MASSIVE THANK YOU TO ALL OUR SUPPORTERS: We work with some wonderful people, without whom our work would not be possible. Thank you to PBHP UK member Roger Phillips for editing all our webinars free of charge. Carmen, Carol and Rob from Mad Ideas who run our website. Eden Green PR who amplify our message. Jane Land and Matthew Glover who support our projects. VegFund and ProVeg for their grants. We are also launching something BIG in January 2021, so watch this space……

Of course, a big thank you to all our PBHP UK members, without whom this work would not be possible.

If you want to support our work, please follow ‘plant-based health professionals UK’ on Instagram @plantbasedhealthprofessionals and facebook. You can support our work by joining as a member or making a donation via the website.