Why study children's nutrition
and physical activity?
Preventing the development of obesity in children is an international health priority. Overweight in early childhood is determined in part by eating, physical activity and sedentary behaviours, learnt at home in the first five years of life. To date, no studies have rigorously evaluated the effectiveness of a childhood obesity prevention intervention specifically targeting the early years. Early childhood provides a limited opportunity to establish lifestyle behaviours that promote health. The Melbourne InFANT Program is based on the principals that:
- behaviours are established early in life;
- caregivers play a primary role in shaping these behaviours during infancy;
- intervening before parents begin to shape these behaviours (using an anticipatory guidance framework) is likely to be effective.
Why first-time parents?
We know parents want to provide the best start for their babies, but sometimes need help with this - babies don't come with a “how to” manual! We have designed a program to help parents provide their babies with the best start to healthy eating and active play. The program is delivered by a paediatric dietitian over six sessions with first-time parents' group, and provides advice and support that is relevant to the changing needs of growing babies.
We also know that first-time parents may be particularly receptive to knowledge and skill development around parenting and the promotion of healthy family eating and physical activity behaviours, and are actively seeking this information.
- Unhealthy lifestyle choices have numerous negative impacts on children's health and wellness.
- Patterns of behaviour established in early childhood are evident well into adulthood.
- Treatment is difficult and costly.
- Opportunities for prevention are poorly understood, while of paramount importance.
- There is an urgent need to develop successful interventions that target behaviours from their inception in infancy.
The Melbourne InFANT Program aims to test the effectiveness of a childhood healthy eating and active play intervention delivered to first-time parents and focused on parenting skills that support the development of positive diet, physical activity and low-level sedentary behaviours from infancy.
Who is taking part?
Recruitment into the Melbourne InFANT Program took place between June - December 2008; we are no longer enrolling new participants. 542 babies and their first-time parents are taking part. These babies were about 3 months of age when their parents agreed to take part in the Melbourne InFANT Program, and at the time lived in local government areas that granted permission for the project to take place in their region.
What was required from participants?
Participants who joined the Melbourne InFANT Program were required to:
- sign a consent form to accept participation in the project.
- complete a survey, with questions about their baby, family and themselves, at the beginning, middle and end of the project. They also received a small gift at the completion of each survey in thanks of their time and contribution.
- talk to a researcher for 15 minutes on the phone about what their baby ate the day before at 3 times, each at the middle and end of the project.
- have their baby's weight and length measured at the beginning, middle and end of the project, and have their baby's waist measured at the end of the project.
- fit an accelerometer on their child at the end of the project, to measure their child's physical activity levels.
Enrolled first-time parents' group were randomly placed into either the 'Program Group' or the 'Newsletter Group'.
Parents in the 'Program Group' attended six 2-hour sessions delivered at three monthly intervals by an experienced paediatric dietitian. These sessions provided advice and support to promote healthy eating, active play and reduced sedentary behaviour.
Parents in the 'Newsletter Group' received six newsletters at 3 monthly intervals on generic child development issues relevant to the child's age.
Follow-up of the Melbourne InFANT program participants
The project has received funding to follow-up the participants of the Melbourne InFANT Program when the children are 3.5 and 5 years of age. The follow-up aims to assess whether the differences observed between the intervention and control groups at the conclusion of InFANT are maintained to 3.5 and 5 years of age.
Participants from the Melbourne InFANT Program are invited to participate in this phase of the project and are asked to provide similar information to what they have in the past. This includes child measurements, main carer measurements, main carer and partner surveys, three telephone interviews regarding their child's diet on previous day, child activity and position monitors and a fasting blood sample of the child.
The 3.5 year time point will be completed in 2012 and the 5 year time point completed in 2013.
How is this Project funded?
This study has been funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) (http://www.nhmrc.gov.au/). NHMRC is Australia's peak body for supporting health and medical research developing health advice for the Australian community, health professionals and governments. They also provide advice on ethical behaviour in health care and in the conduct of health and medical research.
The project is supported by Deakin University, The Heart Foundation Victoria, and The Royal Children's Hospital. Ethics approval was obtained from the Department of Human Services Office for Children and Deakin University.