New research centre to tackle the growing health issues in the Pacific region

10 September 2009

Deakin University has joined with the Fiji School of Medicine to research solutions to the growing problem of obesity and non-communicable diseases in the Pacific region.

The Pacific region has the highest prevalence of obesity in the world, with some countries registering more than 90 per cent of adults as either overweight or obese. Non-communicable diseases are also on the increase—type 2 diabetes, for example, affects nearly one in two adults in some Pacific countries.

Deakin and the Fiji School of Medicine have established the Pacific Centre for the Prevention of Obesity and Non-communicable Diseases (C-POND) to provide research and program evaluation to underpin solutions to the growing health problems of the region.

Australia has as much to gain from the outcomes of the Centre's efforts as the Pacific countries, said Boyd Swinburn, professor of population health and director of the World Health Organisation Collaborating Centre for Obesity Prevention at Deakin University.

"While obesity is much worse in Pacific countries, such as Fiji, than in Australia, we are all experiencing an increase and no country has yet shown how to institute the right measures to reverse the trends," Professor Swinburn said.

"Unlike other epidemics such as tobacco and road deaths where the Pacific can learn from our successes, Australia has no track record to emulate in terms of obesity prevention, so Pacific countries have to find Pacific solutions to the problem. Therefore, Australia has as much to learn about the effective interventions in Fiji as Fiji has to learn about what works or does not work in Australia. We are all learning together."

Deakin and the Fiji School of Medicine have collaborated over the past five years on the Pacific Obesity Prevention in Communities (OPIC) project—a large scale program aimed at adolescents in New Zealand, Fiji, Tonga and Australia. This work has provided the platform for C-POND research.

"The OPIC project has been by far the largest research project in the Pacific in the area of prevention of obesity and its consequences of chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease," Professor Swinburn said.

"We have analysed the cost-effectiveness of over 60 policy interventions and worked with stakeholders to prioritise those into a set of evidence-based top recommendations for the governments of Fiji and Tonga.

"We have also analysed the socio-cultural factors that have been contributing to the obesity problem in the Pacific including the positive social value of a large body size and the supply and consumption of large amounts of food at social functions.

"The intervention program we evaluated amongst adolescents is currently being analysed and we expect to have results before the end of the year."

Future C-POND projects will, in the first instance, centre on analysing and disseminating the results of the OPIC study.

 

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