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Dr Karen Campbell sees herself as a kind of Lollypop Lady for Health and Nutrition.
“We take seriously the safety of our children when they go to school by having Lollypop Ladies to make sure they get across the road properly,” she says.
“As a community I think we need to have that same level of commitment to the safety of our children when it comes to healthy eating and ensuring they’re involved in physical activity.
“So maybe what we’re trying to do at Deakin with the InFANT program makes me and my colleagues Lollypop Ladies in those areas, albeit with a sugar free lollypop.”
The InFANT program, funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council, will investigate the feasibility of providing first-time mothers with the knowledge and skills that will help them make the best decisions about their children’s health, particularly in relation to promoting health weight.
The research team includes some of not just Deakin’s but Australia’s finest in the field of children’s health – Kylie Hesketh, David Crawford, Jo Salmon, Kylie Ball, Sarah McNaughton, and Dr Zoe McCallum from Melbourne University’s Department of Paediatrics.
The program will make use of an already existing network, The Maternal and Child Health Centre’s First Time Parent’s Groups.
“The aim is to inform and support parents about the sorts of decisions they are going to find themselves making around eating and physical activity,” Dr Campbell said.
“For instance, the first time your child throws away a piece of broccoli, do you decide that children don’t like broccoli, especially if you didn’t like it as well?
“Or do you understand that that is actually normal behaviour and the more you offer it, the more likely the children are to accept it.
“Another situation might be: Do you succumb to a child’s tantrums because they want to watch television or are there other strategies for managing that?
“So the approach of the project is basically to support parents, to help them make decisions that are going to have a long term impact on their parenting style around food and activity and do it in a culture that is incredibly supportive.
“We are not criticising parents, that is something I want to make clear, it is all about giving them support.
“a unique feature of the project is that we are using an existing social support structure which is the first time parent’s groups.
“In Victoria, they have incredible reach, about three-quarters of all parents end up in a first time parents group and the average life of that group is around 18 months.
“So we have got this lovely, relatively long term opportunity at a time when important parenting practices are being laid down and decisions about food and activity are being made.
“What is also unique is that it is also the first intervention world-wide that we are aware of that is using anticipatory guidance to inform the timing of the delivery of the health messages.
“Anticipatory guidance basically means that rather than being reactive and providing parents with messages and strategies after they need them you inform their thinking beforehand.”
“Kylie Hesketh and I have done research before and parents tell us they wish they’d had this information before they got into a pickle. “
Previous research also shows that early childhood is the key time for the establishment of eating , physical activity and sedentary practices than can promote overweight and obesity.
“We know that once these behaviours are established, they are likely to track from childhood through adolescence and adulthood,” Dr Campbell said.
“If we can steer people in a different direction early on, guide them safely across the food and physical activity road-crossings, then the potential outcomes are very positive.
“Obesity and the other problems that arise from it are a serious challenge for the community.
“If we can show through InFANT there is a friendly effective way to prevent obesity, rather than having to find cures for it later on, we are a lot closer to meeting that challenge.”
For further information on Dr Campbell’s work, visit http://www.deakin.edu.au/hmnbs/ens/staff/index.php?username=kcamp