What can the public believe? Navigating weight and health information


Date: Tuesday, 9th June 2020
Time: 09.30am – 11.00am
Venue: Webinar

Event overview

There is a wealth of lifestyle information in newspapers, broadcast media, and social media on a daily basis. The accuracy of information varies and results in many contradictory and confusing messages for the public. This can potentially lead to negative impacts on people’s health.

This event explored the credibility of information available on diet, physical activity and body weight on the island of Ireland. We looked at this from the viewpoint of the expert, the patient living with obesity, and the media.

Watch the presentations

Dr Robert O Connor from the Irish Cancer Society opened the webinar and discussed credible lifestyle information from the perspective of the Irish Cancer Society. 


Professor Theo Lynn from Dublin City University presented findings on the unqualified expert community online. 


Patient advocates, Ms Susie Birney and Ms Mary-Francis White shared the impact misleading lifestyle information has had on their journeys with obesity. 

Lastly, NI journalist and former BBC Newsline presenter, Sarah Travers, provided a media perspective on the role that media can play in reducing the amount of misinformation, and discussed how health professionals can better engage with the media to ensure that credible information is coming to the fore.

Panel discussion


Time Programme Speaker
09.30 – 09.40 Welcome address: Introduction to the All-island Obesity Action Forum, the topic and how the webinar will work Dr Catherine Conlon, safefood
09.40 – 09.55

Credible lifestyle information – the perspective of the Irish Cancer Society

Dr Robert O Connor, Irish Cancer Society
09.55 – 10.10 Exploring the unqualified expert community online Professor Theo Lynn, Dublin City University
10.10 – 10.25

Patient advocates highlighting the impact that misleading lifestyle information has had on their journeys with obesity

Ms Susie Birney &
Ms Mary-Francis White

Association for the Study of Obesity on the island of Ireland (ASOI)
10.25-10.40 A journalist's perspective, how can the health professional better engage with media to ensure credible information coming to the fore?

Sarah Travers, NI journalist and media trainer

10.40 – 11.00 Questions/ Closing remarks  

About the speakers

Dr. Robert O’Connor, Irish Cancer Society

Dr. O’Connor is the Director of Research for the Irish Cancer Society, Ireland’s national cancer charity. Robert’s training is in the study of medicines (pharmacology and he has 20+ years of experience in biomedical science, biological safety and health education and research.  Robert is a passionate advocate for evidence-based advances in cancer and health and regularly contributes to media to help explain and contextualise these advances, helping debunk the misinformation and many myths and fads that circulate in this area. 

Prof. Theo Lynn, Dublin City University

Professor Theo Lynn is Full Professor of Digital Business at Dublin City University. Theo specializes in the role of digital technologies in transforming business processes. He has written extensively on the role of social media in a variety of domains and the use of data science to extract insights from social media data.

Ms. Susie Birney & Ms. Mary Frances White Association for the Study of Obesity on the island of Ireland (ASOI)

Patient advocates, Ms Susie Birney and Ms Mary-Francis White will share the impact misleading information has had on their journey’s with obesity.

Ms. Susie Birney

“I am 44 years old and living in Dublin. I have been a patient representative with the ASOI since 2016 and am the secretary for the European Coalition for People Living with Obesity.

Having struggled with Selective Eating Disorder, depression and sports injury I was referred to the Weight Management Service weighing 155kgs. I had diabetes, PCOS, Umbilical hernia and Sciatica to name a few side issues. I followed the programme and had a gastric bypass which reversed my diabetes but the one defining factor for me was patient support. I became an advocate to raise awareness through sharing my experiences of living with obesity. I am currently leading the committee formed to establish a national Patient organisation ICPO. The Irish Coalition for People Living with Obesity.”

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Ms. Mary Frances White

“I live in Dublin but am originally from Belfast. My earliest memory of being bigger than my peers was around the age of 7. My mother constantly monitored what I ate, it was a battle ground that ended up lasting the most of my life living at home. In adulthood, my battle became harder as I developed food obsessions, eating in secret, my warped logic was that if no one saw me eating then I hadn’t eating it! In my 40’s I was diagnosed diabetic, sleep apnea, high blood pressure, gout. My weight was also impacting on my work life, I work as a social care worker & 12 hour shifts where getting physically harder to do!

An important aspect of patient advocacy for me is to show that weight bias is not OK within society, to advocate for a better understanding of this disease. I am on the committee forming ICPO The Irish Coalition for People Living with Obesity.”

Ms. Sarah Travers, Journalist and Media trainer

Former BBC NI journalist and Co- Director of Bespoke Communications is a media trainer and presenter who will share an insight into the workings of a newsroom and how a story makes it into the running order. 

She’ll also look at why so many scientists and researchers are reluctant to engage with the media and she’ll share some tips and techniques to help build relationships with journalists, how to keep control of an interview and how to get your message heard.

Find out more

For more information about this event:

E-mail: events@safefood.eu or obesityforum@safefood.eu

Call: (NI) 0800 085 1683 (ROI) 1850 40 4567