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The answer to Australia’s growing problem could be just a phone call away.
An Obesity Call Centre, run by either governments or the health funds, is one way to combat Australia’s growing obesity problem.
The Call Centre is one of the potential implications of recent research conducted by one of Deakin University's many experts on both the causes of and ways to prevent obesity, Dr Kylie Ball, Senior Research Fellow at the School of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences.
“We know that it is very difficult to get people to change their behaviour,” Dr Ball said.
'We can change the amount of information they have about diet and exercise by the production of brochures and so on. But more needs to be done to get people motivated, to get them out doing more physical activity.
'One of the successes we have had involved a fairly minimal, telephone mediated intervention for middle aged to older adults.
'The aim was simple, to promote physical activity to them, but not in a group situation like gym classes and so on.
'These were all people who needed to have the flexibility to work out in their own time as individuals.
'There were 65 people involved in the study and they received eight phone calls over a two month period, encouraging them to become more active.
'We also sent out brief newsletters to supplement those phone calls and we found this was a very successful way to help these older adults set goals for physical activity.
'It sounds a bit counter-intuitive, I know, because you’re often sitting down when you’re on the phone but I guess the participants took heart from the discussions they had.
'On average, the people involved in the study were doing an extra half hour to an hour’s exercise a week.'
Dr Ball believes that if the program was developed into a national one, it could greatly increase the exercise levels of Australians and help contribute to reducing the country’s obesity crisis.
'Absolutely,' she said. 'One of the things we try to do at Deakin is to think about the translation of our research into practice. It could be a Government call centre or it could be something incorporated into the private health funds.
'Given the chronic health issues that arise as a result of being obese, it would be in their interests to be encouraging their members to be more active.'
Certainly, Dr Ball believes we have reached the situation in Australia where the responsibility for getting fit can’t simply be left to the individual.
'I don’t think we can continue place sole responsibility on this on to individuals because for a lot of them it is very difficult for them to make the kinds of choices we are telling them they should make,' she said.
'There is a lot of confusion as well. On the one hand, you have all the messages about health and fitness, but you have a lot of huge markets working against it, fast foods, the car industry.
'They spend a lot of money encouraging people to use products that don’t promote a healthy or active lifestyle.
'There are so many things we need to look at. There is also the issue of urban design strategies, making it easier and safer for people to use parks and walking tracks.
'Everyone knows there is no simple solution for these problem. It is an acute one now and requires a whole range of strategies.
'At Deakin, with the phone calls, we’ve found that worked at the test level and would be even more successful if it was fully funded and developed by either the Government or the private sector.'
The Obesity Call Centre – it has a nice ring to it.