Deakin's community project fit for a Prince!
It's not quite the fabled gold-embossed badge by appointment to Her Majesty, but it's the next best thing.
Fun 'n' healthy in Moreland!, Professor Elizabeth Waters ground breaking partnership with Moreland Community Health Services aimed at improving child health and wellbeing in Melbourne's inner suburbs, was included in Prince Charles' itinerary on his last visit to Australia.
"We were number one out of 220 projects put up to Buckingham Palace, we got Prince Charles to the Moreland community, a place where even AFL footballers rarely visit," said Professor Waters who holds the Chair in Public Health in Deakin's Faculty of Health, Medicine, Nursing and Behavioural Sciences.
"It was just fantastic recognition for all the work the schools, the parents, the community and, most importantly, the kids have been putting in."
Fun 'n' healthy in Moreland! is a unique project being undertaken in the Melbourne suburbs of Coburg, Brunswick, Glenroy, Oak Park, Pascoe Vale and Fawkner. It is a strong partnership between the child public health research team at Deakin University, the Health Promotion group within Moreland Community Health Service, the 24 schools involved, over 3000 families, and 170 cultural backgrounds.
"It came about because we know there is a relationship between socio-economic status and determinants of child health, specifically increasing overweight and obesity," said Professor Waters.
"There are lot of issues around what is called acculturation, the process of moving to a new country and adopting the new countries norms. There is a perception that the Australian diet is healthy."
"However, a lot of people are from countries like Turkey, Italy, Greece and India where their patterns of eating were fantastic, incredibly healthy.
"They've moved to Australia and they have perceived that a lot of the Western customs we have are healthy customs, which is not necessarily the case.
"What is different about fun 'n' healthy in Moreland! compared to other international studies is that it is being conducted over five years. It is also working in partnership with people who are normally excluded from studies.
"Most health research excludes people who aren't literate in English because they can't fill in questionnaires.
"What we have in this study is 50 per cent of children with a parent who has been born out of the country. That presents a challenge, but we are proving that it is not an insurmountable one, so long as you're prepared to put in the work.
"We've worked out what the priorities are for the schools, the children, the parents, the broader community and we're working on addressing those."
Even at this early stage of the project " just one year " successes are being recorded.
"We've just done our first audit," Professor Waters said. "We've found that all of the schools have already implemented a range of initiatives including a water policy."
"A lot of people have come from countries where the water is unsafe. What we have to do is convince them that the water here is safe to drink and better for them and their children than other products.
"We've also got a large proportion of schools that are implementing kitchen gardens."
This is a blossoming idea first promoted by celebrity cook Stephanie Alexander and widely promoted by VicHealth.
Stephanie Alexander encouraged building gardens in school grounds so students and parents can start to learn how to grow and use fresh fruit and vegetables.
"They are part of the growing process rather than just thinking all food comes from supermarkets," said Professor Waters.
"The exciting thing with all these ideas is that all the schools are doing things differently.
"They are doing it in a way that is appropriate to their school as opposed to what has been traditionally been done, as in a directive like " you will do 10 weeks of physical activity".
"That works well for some children and not for others so what we're arguing is it's better to understand the strengths of the school environment and work out an approach that's going to work for all kids, not just those who are good at cricket and AFL."
Other concepts include re-designing school playgrounds so they are more "user-friendly", especially when it comes to encouraging children to play outside.
These ideas built on the work of many other Deakin researchers, including Professors Boyd Swinburn and David Crawford, Dr Jo Salmon, Kylie Ball and Cate Burns.
"We know from Jo's work that the more time you spend outside, the more time you are likely to be involved in physical activity. We have taken all of this background work and provided the school with the evidence base."
Fun 'n' healthy in Moreland! is also working in partnership with mothers of different cultural backgrounds, Arabic,Greek, Somalian mothers to improve their fitness as well as the fitness of their children.
"Conventionally, many families drop their children off at school in the car," Professor Waters said. "We are encouraging them to let the children walk to school, and for them to walk with them."
"There are a lot of myths and legends for new migrant communities about what is healthy and what is not. Something else we are encouraging is for people to be more critical of the way advertising is directed towards them."
"The children have already begun looking at new ways to fund raise for their schools. They know fund raising is important, but they believe there has to be a better way of doing it then selling chocolate."
"There are a lot of simple, basic things that can be done and the really good thing is that they are not only being done, but they are being worked into school policies, community and family environments so that will be done over the long term, not just as a once off."
"Thankfully VicHealth, and then the Victorian State Government through the Department of Human Services and Victorian Communities, have shared our vision and funded this project under the Go For Your Life strategy. It is an extremely challenging and rewarding research partnership"
No wonder Buckingham Palace was impressed.