Responding to childhood obesity

Improving Health and Wellbeing

Researchers are using systems science methods in the fight against obesity.

A Deakin University-led NHMRC Partnership Project Grant will trial a whole of community approach to childhood obesity prevention in Northern Victoria, using systems science to guide planning and implementation and accelerate efforts to prevent childhood obesity.

The five-year “Reflexive Evidence and Systems interventions to Prevent Obesity and Non-communicable Disease” (RESPOND) project will target more than 30,000 children from birth to 12 years of age across ten Local Government Areas (LGAs), 14 health services and 116 schools in the Ovens Murray and Goulburn region of Victoria.

Lead researcher Professor Steven Allender from Deakin’s Global Obesity Centre (GLOBE) said the project is the first stepped-wedge cluster randomised controlled trial of a whole of system childhood obesity prevention approach at scale in Northern Victoria.

It will also evaluate the impact of community-led systems interventions that address childhood weight and related issues.

“There is a need for approaches that provide support to answer the often complex and difficult questions that policymakers, managers and service providers face when making decisions and implementing policies to address childhood obesity,” Professor Allender said.

“This project will test the effectiveness, at scale, of a community-led model for applying systems science to obesity prevention.”

Stepped-wedge cluster randomised control trial designs involve collecting data during a baseline period when no clusters are exposed to the intervention and then randomising clusters at regular intervals, or steps, to receive the intervention. Data is collected from each cluster and at each time period.

Professor Allender said GLOBE, a designated World Health Organisation Collaborating Centre for Obesity Prevention, had developed and demonstrated a cutting-edge approach to whole of system childhood obesity prevention in single communities, which had shown a reduction in childhood obesity in just two years.

“This gives us confidence that the process we’ve been using can start to show results quickly and is amenable to working at scale,” he said.

Professor Allender will work with long-term colleagues Dr Claudia Strugnell, Professor Boyd Swinburn, Dr Melanie Nichols, Professor Anna Peeters, Professor Andrew Bell, Professor Marjory Moodie and Associate Professor Liliana Orellana.

The team has a 15 year history of working in partnership with regional Victorian communities to deliver multi-strategy, community-led obesity prevention initiatives in single communities such as the banning of sugar-sweetened beverages in health services and changes to council policy.

“Our experience includes training people in community health, education and lay members to apply methods from ‘systems science’ to the prevention of obesity and establishment of a low cost childhood obesity monitoring system,” Professor Allender said.

“Working with our partners – the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Education and Training, VicHealth and local primary care organisations – we plan to embed best practice for obesity prevention into existing community systems across regional Victoria, to achieve significant long-term impacts on policy, practice, and child health at scale.”
Professor Steve Allender
Professor Steve Allender Deakin's Global Obesity Centre (GLOBE)

Professor Allender is also involved in a ground-breaking international project launched this week to involve and empower adolescents in preventing overweight and obesity.

The CO-CREATE project focuses on adolescence as a crucial age-group of young people who are soon to be the next generation of adults, parents and policymakers. Researchers will work with young people to create, inform and disseminate policies to tackle obesity among their peers.

Funded under a European Commission Horizon 2020 grant and led by the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, CO-CREATE involves 14 research groups in six European countries plus Australia, South Africa and the United States, with GLOBE being the only Australian research group included.

“This grant provides an opportunity to apply what we’re learning about obesity prevention in Australian trials to several European countries,” Professor Allender said.

“We’re looking forward to creating a step change in the approach to preventing obesity with this work in five European countries, which will complement our broader international collaborations with the World Health Organisation.”

Read more about GLOBE’s previous research: Deakin unites communities in obesity battle

 

Published by Deakin Research on 4 May 2018

Centre for Population Health Research

The Centre for Population Health Research (CPHR) contributes to health improvements for Australian and global populations through its extensive and diverse portfolio of research activities in public health, implementation, knowledge translation and advocacy, training and expert advisory services.