Insights (Essays)

Insights (Essays) June 2011

Obesity expert garners honorary degree from Guelph-Humber

Internationally renowned researcher puts Canada at the forefront of efforts to curb excess weight

EDMONTON, AB, June 21, 2011 – Canadian Obesity Network- Réseau canadien en obésité (CON-RCO) founder and Scientific Director Dr. Arya M. Sharma was awarded an honorary degree from the University of Guelph-Humber's (UGH) department of kinesiology on June 20, 2011.

"One of the core values at University of Guelph-Humber, especially within our Kinesiology program, is to integrate a variety of academic and professional disciplines to help our students more fully comprehend the complexities of problems such as obesity,” says Michael O'Leary, a PhD candidate and head of the UGH’s kinesiology program. “We were more than excited when Dr. Sharma was awarded as our honorary degree recipient, as his multi-disciplinary approach to understanding obesity and his successful research has been and will continue to be a model by which we educate our students."

Dr. Sharma addressed the program’s faculty and 2011 graduates in an afternoon ceremony at the school's Toronto campus. He detailed a life filled with multiple emigrations, from his birthplace in Germany to an Indian father and German mother, to India at the age of five, and back again in time for high school. A career in medicine and academia took him and a young family with three daughters to Salt Lake City, Utah and then back to Berlin before accepting a Canada Research Chair in Cardiovascular Obesity, Research and Management at McMaster University in Hamilton, ON in 2002.  He accepted an endowed professorship at the University of Alberta in 2007, and he also leads Alberta Health Services' Obesity Prevention and Bariatric Care Strategy.

Along the way, he founded CON-RCO, a not-for-profit network dedicated to linking the research, policy and practice communities to advance the development and delivery of effective obesity prevention and treatment solutions. The group’s core strategies focus on addressing the stigma associated with excess weight, changing the way policy makers and health professionals approach obesity, and improving access to prevention and treatment resources. Currently, CON-RCO boasts almost 6,000 professional members, making it the largest obesity organization in the world, despite limited government funding and widespread resistance to recognizing obesity as a complex disease requiring medical care.

“Canada has been extremely good to me,” Dr. Sharma told graduates. “In India, I was always the odd-looking German kid, and in Germany, I was always the funny Indian dude. In Canada, I found out, nobody really cares – finally, I [could] just be who I am and can blend in as easily as the next guy.”

His advice to graduates? Embrace change, and turn unforeseen challenges into opportunities for growth.

“If the degree that you receive today is to be worth more than the paper it is written on, it is because I am fully confident that it will help you make the very best of whatever happens.  Situations – both good and not so good – will come upon you out of the blue, and when you least expect them – seize them as opportunities and trust in yourself to always make the best of them.”

Anton Hart, president and CEO of Longwood’s Publishing and chair of CON-RCO’s board of directors, commended UGH’s recognition of Dr. Sharma’s tireless efforts to improve the lives of the 14 million Canadian adults and almost two million children who are considered overweight or obese.

“Dr. Sharma has energized this country's healthcare professions, students and policy makers to promote best practices for a complex condition that has a profound, negative effect on quality of life and our economy,” Hart said. “His perseverance against the rampant bias and stigma that have prevented people with excess weight from receiving the help they need in this country is inspiring.”

Dr. Sharma’s address can be viewed here – click on the third panel:


For more information contact:
Brad Hussey, Communications Director, Canadian Obesity Network

905-628-7778 (EST)


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