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9 December 2011
A passion for improving the health of Australian children has seen Deakin University’s Professor Jo Salmon named as one of Australia’s top health researchers.
Professor Salmon received an Achievement Award by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC)—Australia’s peak body for supporting health and medical research—in recognition of her research into developing and assessing effective ways of encouraging children to spend more time being active and less time sitting around.
The award was recognition of the value of the research being undertaken by Deakin’s Centre for Physical Activity and Nutrition Research (CPAN), Professor Salmon said.
“Winning the award provides validation of the importance of the research that our group in CPAN is doing in preventing poor health and diseases such as obesity and diabetes, and in understanding the science of behaviour change,” she said.
“The Federal and State governments have increasingly recognised that prevention is a priority, particularly in childhood. Without it the potential future costs in health care will simply be unaffordable for this country.
“Ideally, acquiring healthy lifestyle habits early in life that continue to be supported into adulthood will set important foundations for lifelong health and wellbeing.”
Although an optimist by nature, Professor Salmon said she was concerned for the future health of Australian children.
“Changes to how we live our lives, such as new technologies, and the potential physical and social health consequences are unknown. This means that in many respects children are human 'guinea pigs' who are facing unique challenges with unknown health consequences that no preceding generations have experienced,” she said.
“With new products coming on the market almost daily and increasing academic demands on children's time (for example, increased time spent doing homework on the computer after school hours) there is a constant need to examine how or whether these changes impact children's social, emotional and physical health.”
Making Australians aware of the importance of physical activity and reducing their sitting time throughout the day is a challenge that motivates Professor Salmon’s research.
“The concept of moving our bodies throughout the day—what should be easy to achieve for most children—appears to be increasingly difficult,” Professor Salmon explained.
"The environment needs to be designed so that it is easier to make active choices and of course the motivation also needs to be present.
“Very few of us would think that if we brushed our teeth once every couple of weeks that this would be a very effective way of preventing dental caries over a lifetime. Yet many people take this attitude with physical activity. Overlaying this with the additional adverse health effects from sitting for much of the day simply increases the challenges.”
While the challenges of motivating a nation to be more active might seem daunting, Professor Salmon believes some headway is being made through the research being undertaken at Deakin.
“As an example, our team is partway through a novel trial funded by the NHMRC to test the effectiveness of strategies to reduce children's sitting in class and also doing homework,” she said.
“While the results are not yet available, we have had very encouraging feedback from the school teachers, parents and children involved in the study so far.
“It will be interesting to determine whether it is possible to help children sit less and move more throughout the school day and also at home.”
Professor Salmon is the Associate Head of School (Research) with Deakin’s School of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences and holds a personal chair with Deakin’s Centre for Physical Activity and Nutrition Research. She has published 138 peer-reviewed journal articles and played a key role in the development of the National Child and Youth Physical Activity Recommendations for 0-5 year olds and 5-18 year olds in Australia.
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Professor Jo Salmon