The funding will support two pioneering health research projects: one investigating new software for scale mapping the complexities behind unhealthy diets and the other exploring the use of wearable fitness technology to encourage physical activity in adolescents.
The “STICKE Healthy Eating – Systems in Community Knowledge Exchange,” project includes researchers from the World Health Organisation Collaborating Centre (WHO CC) for Obesity Prevention and Deakin’s Institute for Intelligent Systems Research and Innovation (IISRI) and builds on more than a decade of obesity prevention work from this group, which was recently redesignated by WHO as a Collaborating Centre until 2020.
The research team includes Steve Allender, Professor of Population Health and Co-Director World WHO CC for Obesity Prevention, Doug Creighton Assoc Prof (Systems Engineering) and IISRI Deputy Director, Michael Johnstone, IISRI Senior Research Fellow, Colin Bell, Assoc Prof, School of Medicine and WHO CC for Obesity Prevention and Boyd Swinburn, Prof Population Nutrition and Global Health at the University of Auckland and Alfred Deakin Professor and Co-Director of the WHO CC for Obesity Prevention.
“This funding will enable teams from the WHO CC for Obesity Prevention and IISRI to work with VicHealth and develop new technologies to understand and intervene in the complex drivers of unhealthy diet. This represents the next generation of chronic disease prevention,” says Chief Investigator Prof Allender.
Researchers will engage directly with multiple communities in Western Victoria to conduct field trials of new software for mapping at scale the complex drivers of unhealthy diet and the consumption of water versus sugar sweetened beverages such as soft drinks and energy drinks and determine the best ways to make this information effective, efficient and engaging in driving change.
“Sugar sweetened beverages are a key driver of an unhealthy diet, weight gain and increased risk of non-communicable disease. WHO propose less than five per cent of total energy intake per day should come from free sugars, which are particularly prevalent in sugar sweetened beverages,” Prof Allender says.
“Systems thinking is a proven method for addressing complex problems but hasn’t yet been fully applied in health promotion or the prevention of chronic disease,” says Assoc Prof Doug Creighton.
“Without systems maps it’s difficult to adequately design, implement and evaluate interventions for these complex problems and this has limited community obesity prevention efforts to date.
“STICKE presents an opportunity to provide an efficient automated approach to collect systems maps from larger numbers of people and to support community engagement and intervention planning.”
Prof Allender says the work is cutting edge and aligns with VicHealth’s role as a major leader in chronic disease prevention.
“Using Fitbits to promote physical activity in inactive Victorian adolescents: Technological revolution or fad?” is a unique study into how wearable activity trackers can improve the activity levels of adolescents in disadvantaged areas.
Led by Dr Nicola Ridgers, the team from Deakin’s Institute for Physical Activity and Nutrition will use the VicHealth funding to undertake one of the first studies in the world to investigate wearable fitness technology and whether it can be used to increase physical activity in adolescents.
The project will recruit 300 students aged between 13-14 from schools in socioeconomically disadvantaged areas across Melbourne. Students will be given a Fitbit to monitor their activity and will receive weekly information and resources to help them track their activity and challenge them to be more active.
“We know that only 13 per cent of Australian adolescents aged 12-14 years old do enough physical activity to benefit their health and that adolescents living in socioeconomically disadvantaged areas are especially vulnerable,” says Dr Ridgers.
“This means that effective and low cost strategies to promote physical activity and reduce health inequities in Australian adolescents are vital.
“This study will show whether this widely available technology for tracking activity actually makes people more active. It will help us understand how adolescents use the technology and whether we can integrate wearable fitness devices into wider health promotion programs in the future.”
Dr Ridgers says the project aligns with VicHealth’s aim to increase the number of people engaging in physical activity, with a particular emphasis on making walking a part of everyday life and active recreation.
The team includes Alfred Deakin Professor Jo Salmon NHMRC Principal Research Fellow, Prof Anna Timperio, National Heart Foundation of Australia Future Leader Fellow, Dr Helen Brown, Lecturer and Course Co-ordinator, Alfred Deakin Professor Kylie Ball, NHMRC Principal Research Fellow and Ms Susie Macfarlane, Senior Facilitator, Teaching Excellence and Innovation, School of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences.
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