A look back at 2021 for Plant-Based Health Professionals UK

This iconic picture by Jo-Anne McArthur, winner of the COP26 photography competition, is a fitting backdrop for highlighting the work we do at PBHP UK. Without considering the health of the planet and other animals there are no healthy people.

PLANT BASED HEALTH ONLINE (PBHO): The year kicked off with the launch of one our biggest projected to date. Plant Based Health Online is the UK’s first CQC-registered, online, plant-based lifestyle medicine service. Co-founded by myself (shireen Kassam) and Dr Laura Freeman, the mission of this new community interest company is to bring the power of healthy lifestyle habits into mainstream healthcare. Our core values include a lifestyle first approach, working together and compassionate care. We combine the power of allopathic medicine with evidence-based lifestyle medicine to support patients and clients to achieve their best health whilst minimising pharmaceutical interventions. You can read more about our story here.

It has been a tough first year as sustaining a new business is challenging. But, we have learnt lots and worked with some wonderful people and organisations along the way. We have been fortunate to receive funding from the Chartwell Cancer Trust to run programmes for people recovering from cancer, we have teamed up with The Vegan Kind to launch their TVK health section and Dr Laura Freeman has made presentations about the work of PBHO at the VegMed conference in Feb 2021 and the British Society of Lifestyle Medicine conference in Sept 2021.

Most importantly, we have supported our patients to adopt a plant-based diet along with other healthy habits to improve their physical and mental wellbeing, reduce their need for prescribed medications and in some cases, reverse their chronic conditions.

Here is some of the feedback we have received

‘Plant based health online was exactly the support I was looking for after I had gone through cancer treatment. It was more than I had hoped for. It felt like having a personal doctor and dietitian who could answer all my questions’.

‘Connecting with other patients who had gone through cancer was hugely helpful. The team at Plant Based Health Online have made a big and very positive impact on my life. Thank you’.

Being able to ask so many questions and hearing others questions has been really useful. It has allayed many fears and given me inspiration. I feel so much more in control of my health and am feeling so much better all ready!’

We look forward to building on our first year, seeing more patients, working together with like-minded organisations and slowly changing the focus of healthcare from a reactive to a preventative approach.

PBHP UK MEMBERSHIP: Membership started in Janaury 2019. The 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 beyond. Our membership is open to everyone, not just health professionals, because we recognise that everyone has an important role in the plant-based health movement. The membership fees help to run the organisation with all of the income going back into our educational activities and a significant proportion for running members events.

Our membership numbers have grown year on year and this our third year we have reached nearly 1000 members. We now have members globally who we support with provision of educational resources, providing talks at events and of course PBHP UK benefits greatly from the broad expertise of each and every member. Our members have contributed to writing articles, developing factsheets and have participated in talks and panel discussions in VegFest events throughout the year.

We held out first members Annual General Meeting on August 11th and more than 50 attended. It was wonderful to connect with our members, albeit virtually. We brought attendees up to date with our current programme and plans for the coming year. We also had some very useful and engaging discussions about future projects. We look forward to connecting more with our members in 2022.

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.

MEMBERS SOCIALS AND JOURNAL CLUBS: The growth in membership has allowed us to deliver a number of member events run by our members, including cooking socials, fitness classes, and a specific event for students. We have also had a number of journal club meetings to discuss interesting and relevant papers. We will continue with these popular events in 2022, with our first being an acupucture and acupressure class in January.

DEVELOPING A DIVERSITY, EQUITY AND INCLUSION FRAMEWORK: At PBHP UK we are committed to developing a diverse, equitable and inclusive organisation for our team and members. We have therefore being working with Encompass, who support organisations to embrace principles of racial equity with the ultimate goal that the vegan and plant-based movement is truly inclusive of all people, including from the global majority who are all too often marginalised.

The first step has been to develop a DEI vision statement. We would love your feedback as we continue to work on translating this vision to all the work we do.

IN THE MEDIA: We have now been working for over a year with Eden Green PR to broaden our reach and elevate our message in both print and broadcast media. Rohini Bajekal, our communications lead, heads up our media work and regularly supports members to get involved. All our media work can be found here.

Some of our highligths include:

  1. This is how to transition easily to a plant-based diet — The Independent
  2. Experts from PBHP regularly answer listener questions — Simply Vegan Podcast
  3. Vegan Doctors Launch UK’s First-Ever Online Plant-Based Healthcare Service — Plant Based News
  4. Two-thirds of British men say they would rather die 10 years early than give up meat — Mirror
  5. How to support a child who wants to go vegan — The Independent

PUBLICATIONS IN MEDICAL JOURNALS: We have had a number of publications in medical journals and magazine. Some of our highlights are summarised in my previous article. My particular favourites are an interview by the European Heart Journal on the importance of healthy nutrition for the South Asian population, our articles in the British Journal of General Practice on how to help patients to transition to a plant-based diet and why a plant-based food system is essential for addressing a number of global crises, our case report on the inspiring story of Kate Dunbar, our patient advocate, who healed her psoriatic arthritis and a systematic review with our student member Priya Patel on the need for more structured, objective and consistent nutrition education in medical school curricula.

FACTSHEETS: Leila Dehghan, Kate Dunbar and a number of our members have produced some excellent new factsheets including, bloating, coronary heart disease, vitamin D, high cholesterol, bone health factsheet for professionals, bone health for patients, Alzheimer’s disease, prehabilitation, weight management, soya allergy, constipation, PCOS, stroke, weight gain, sports nutrition. These are extensively used by healthcare professionals in their clinical practice and can all be downloaded for free here.

NEW KIDS AREA: The most frequent questions we receive are related to raising plant-based children. This is not surprising given the regular scaremongering in the media about potential harms. That’s why we have developed a new page dedicated to this topic and included information on plant-based milks, supplements, probiotics plus factsheets and fun activities for kids. We are super grateful for the expertise of all who have been involved including Leila Dehghan, Miriam Martinez-Biarge, Kate Dunbar and Rohini Bajekal. We are also proud to features two excellent books by our members, Feeding Your Vegan Child by Sandra Hood RD and The Adventures of Chef Amino and Granny Vegano by Hayley Tait.

BOOKS FROM OUR TEAM AND MEMBERS: We now have a wide range of excellent books written by our team and members. I highly recommend each and every one of them. You can find them all here on our website. There are also more exciting publications due out in 2022!

21-DAY PLANT-BASED HEALTH CHALLENGE AND ONLINE SUPPORT: Since the launch of the PBHP UK plant-based challenge in October 2020 we have had almost 2500 sign ups and some incredible testimonials. This is all down to the hard work of our education lead Leila Dehghan. 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 cuisines. We are exceedingly grateful to all our collaborators including Tomi Makanjuola, Rohini Bajekal, Jay Cox, Kate Dunbar and Nikas Kitchen. With further funding from Vegfund Leila is now able to offer fortnightly live Q&A sessions for participants via Zoom. So please share this resource widely with friends, family and colleagues.

The challenge has also been used as part of our documentary by film maker Jay Cox. Our member Kiran Meka, supported by Leila Dehghan, recruited residents from his home town of Bracknell to sign up and record their experience of trying a plant-based diet and even made the local paper. Kiran himself has a remarkable and inspiring story of healing that has recently been shared in the media. A great advocate for his community. We can’t wait to see the results of the challenge.

WEBINAR PROGRAMME: This project aims to provide regular live CPD accredited webinars on plant-based nutrition and lifestyle medicine in clinical practice for health professionals and students, as well as interested members of the general public. It has served to bring together a community of global plant-based health professionals and reach health professionals who may not be plant-based yet but are interested in incorporating lifestyle and nutrition interventions in their clinical practice. We had a total of 8500 live participants across 30+ webinars in a one-year period from May 2020 to May 2021. We aim to reach at least 10,000 health professionals in 2021/2022 who are looking to deepen their knowledge of plant-based diets in clinical practice with an emphasis on NHS GPs. In general, we have 200–500 live participants for each webinar with an international audience of predominantly health professionals. Recordings are for our members only.

British Society of Lifestyle Medicine (BSLM) offers 1 CPD Credit per webinar and American College of Lifestyle Medicine (ACLM) offers 1 CME Credit per webinar towards the 5 Year Lifestyle Medicine Maintenance of Certification scheme. Other groups that list our webinars include Veganfitness.com, Nutritank and the Vegan Society.

Topics covered this year included plant-based diets for treating Type 2 diabetes, athletes, optimising metabolism, older adults, skin health, autoimmune diseases, in pregnancy, gut health, lifestyle medicine, climate crisis, for prevention of chronic diseases in South Asians, for children, bone health, Vitamin D and cancer.

Here is some of the feedback we have received

‘Brilliant webinar! Thank you so much. Really made me realise where I am going wrong personally!’

‘These webinars have really kept me going through the lockdowns. Each one is so carefully researched and beautifully presented.

‘I’ve been coming to loads of webinars lately and these are of great quality! Well done!’

Fantastic talks — so clear and information. It consolidated a lot of my knowledge

‘Such an informative talk and an eye opener for me. I now have a clearer picture of what can be done to support the patient journey’.

WINCHESTER UNIVERSITY PLANT-BASED NUTRITION COURSE: This course has really been a team effort and continues to go from strength to strength. It is now in it’s third year and has had over 500 participants from around the world. It remains the only University-based plant-based nutrition course in the UK and is CPD accredited by the British Society of Lifestyle Medicine and the American College of Lifestyle Medicine. Co-facilitated by Leila Dehghan and myself, it is a self-paced 8-week course, which provides a thorough science-based grounding in the subject. We have also launched bi-annual study day updates for past participants to keep up with the ever growing body of evidence on the science and practice of plant-based nutrition.

Here is just one of the incredible testimonianls we have received in the last year

‘It is no exaggeration to describe this course as life-changing for me professionally, and personally, I have learned so much that will help me optimize my own vegan diet, and that of my plant-based journeying family. As a GP, I now feel I have the knowledge base around plant-based nutrition and the confidence to intervene with sound advice in many of the chronic health problems I see on a daily basis. Every doctor working in Primary Care or specialties should complete this course’. Dr Sarah Benn, GP.

You can book your place for 2022 here.

WEEKLY 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 the health benefits of nuts and seeds by Natalie Peckett, our medical student member, updates articles on soya by Dr Nitu Bajekal, prostate cancer, bone health and stroke and a short review on the health benefits of a plant-based diet by Biology graduate and member Isabelle Sadler.

SUPPORTING VEGFEST UK: Leila Dehghan has organised and hosted a number of health talks and panel discussions for the online VegFest, Plant Powered Expo and Global Vegfest events. All these events highlight the expertise of PBHP UK members and provide credible education for the public. All of the recordings of these talks and panel discussion can be found on the Vegfest YouTube channel.

COOKING FOR THE CLIMATE: Dr Hayley Tait, GP, author and chef has joined the PBHP UK team and has launched a new program, ‘Cooking for the Climate’, which aims to bridge the gap between the plant-based and planetary health movements. In the UK, planetary health education is beginning to be incorporated into medical and healthcare education courses. However, the impact of diet choice on planetary health is often overlooked.

This stand-alone course can be incorporated into existing healthcare courses to educate and support health students and professionals to understand the impact of the food system on planetary health, to learn the necessary skills and knowledge to adopt a healthy plant-based diet and to discuss how to support their patients and clients to do the same. So far, we are delivering the course at Exeter and Southampton medical schools with further Universities looking to come on board in 2022.

Hayley, in collaboration with one of her patients, has also launched Vinny’s Kitchen in Liverpool, which PBHP UK is proud to support. The name Vinny comes for a patient and friend of Hayley’s who cooked with her at Scouse Kitchen, a homeless outreach providing hot food, clothing and support until the COVID lockdown in March 2020. Sadly, Vinny did not survive a COVID infection and hence the Community Plant Based Cook school has been named in dedication.

The kitchen is a space for individuals and families to learn how to cook simple plant-based recipes from scratch using familiar and unfamiliar ingredients to create taste sensations. As well as teaching culinary skills, Hayley will be discussing the human and planetary health benefits of a whole food plant-based diet and giving tips on climate smart choices. All the food that is made is delivered to the local homeless community.

PARTNERSHIPS AND COLLABORATIONS: We continue to support organisations that align with our mission.This includes supporting them to produce evidence-based information on healthy plant-based diets. We have also developed partnership and sponsorship guidelines to ensure we maintain the integrity of our organisation.

Organisations that we have developed good working relationships and affiliations with include ProVeg, the British Society of Lifestyle Medicine, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) and Doctors for Nutrition. Rohini Bajekal, our communications lead, continues to support Animal Rebellion’s school meals programme and has written a letter with ProVeg to the European Commission to stop the EU promotion of meat and dairy. We also regularly attend and participate in the All-Party Parliamentary Groups (APPGs) food and health group.

This year we have also extended our affiliation to include organisations that are advocating for climate health, including the Planetary Health Alliance and the UK Alliance on Climate Change.

We are also proud to be affiliated with organisations and projects that are run by some of our incredibly talented and knowledgable members including Henry and Henry, Vegan Inclusive Education, TeachStrong and Afternoon Tea with Docs, just to mention a few

CAMPAIGNS: We are proud to have supported some excellent campaigns this year. These include Scrap Factory Farming by Humane Being who have launched the Worlds first legal challenge with a hearing date set for January 2022. Regardless of the outcomes, this HUGE undertaking will go down in history as one of the more ambitious challenges to the animal agriculture industry.

We have also supported the World Plant Milk Day campaign with an open letter to the UK government to provide plant milks to children as an alternative to cow’s milk, the Plant Based Treaty that has gained remarkable traction, the Food and Diversity project by Leila Dehghan, promoting and highlighting plant-based athletes and health professionals from the global majority. I was able to promote the International No Meat May Campaign at King’s College Hospital, with at least 60 staff signing up and trying a plant-based diet. We even made the local paper!

INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCES, EVENTS AND ACHIEVEMENTS: Our team and members are proud to have been invited to speak at a number of national and international conferences. These include VegFest Morocco, Istanbul Vegfest, Singapore Vegan Festival, Vegan First India event, the Animal Politics party annual conference, the International Conference on Nutrition in Medicine, the International Plant-Based Nutrition Healthcare Conference, the British Society of Lifestyle Medicine Conference, Ismaili Healthcare Professionals Conference, the Romanian Lifestyle Medicine Conference and the Pakistan Lifestyle Medicine Society conference.

Rohini Bajekal and Marta Lewandowska had poster presentations on case studies from our members on the benefits of a whole food plant-based diet for type 2 diabetes and multiple sclerosis at the British Society of Lifestyle Medicine Conference. Dr Laura Freeman and Dr Shireen Kassam led a panel discussion on ‘Supporting patients to remove red meat from the diet’ at the Planetary Health Alliance annual conference.

A massive congratulations to our ambassador Kate Strong who is now holder of three Guinness World Records for cycling the furthest on a static bike over 1, 12 and 24 hours. A phenomenal achievement and of course all on a plant-based diet. Our film maker Jay Cox captured the event and has won an award for best short film. We look forward to sharing the film with you in 2022.

A FEATURE WEEK ON CHEF AJ’S YOUTUBE CHANNEL: The PBHP UK and PBHO teams were delighted to showcase our work on Chef AJ live. From December 27th we have a daily interview with our amazing team members. Please do tune in to learn more about our work and the motivation that drives us.

WHAT’S IN STORE FOR 2022. We are set for another productive year of education and advocacy, building upon all the projects we have initiated in 2020/2021. One major contribution will be the completion of a textbook called ‘Plant-Based Nutrition in Clinical Practice’. This really has been a team effort with each chapter authored by our members and affiliates. Our aim is for this textbook to be embraced into healthcare courses in the UK and beyond.

We will be joining PCRM in January 2022 as part of their One Healthy World campaign. Leila Dehghan, in collaboration with Veganfitness.com, is launching an online course on sports nutrition. We have an incredible line up for our webinar programme and we will continue to update our collection of factsheets and webinars.

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. Keith Lesser of Lesser and Co chartered accountants. Jane Land and Matthew Glover who support our projects. VegFund, Karuna foundation and ProVeg for their grants. We look forward to working with you all in 2022.

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Consultant Haematologist and Lifestyle Medicine Physician. Founder and Director of Plant-based health professionals UK.

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Shireen Kassam

Shireen Kassam

Consultant Haematologist and Lifestyle Medicine Physician. Founder and Director of Plant-based health professionals UK.

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