Research projects

Our research addresses the challenges and complexities of obesity and chronic diseases from different perspectives of prevention. Our current focus is on the following four themes: monitoring of non-communicable diseases, interventions with communities, food systems and policy analysis, and systems thinking for non-communicable disease prevention.

Our role

As a World Health Organization Collaborating Centre, our unit provides expert advice to the WHO and its member states on obesity-related matters, with a focus on obesity prevention in the Pacific region. The Collaborating Centre has been in operation for over 10 years and was the first to focus on obesity prevention of over 800 centres worldwide.

Examples of our unit’s work on behalf of, or with, WHO include the following:

  • Rwanda STEPs report, August 2014
  • First regional forum of WHO Collaborating Centres in the Western Pacific, 13–15 November 2014
  • Healthy Islands Project and Proposal Review 2015, March 2015
  • Advise Pacific Workshop on Nutrition, Non-communicable Diseases and the Role of Codex, 20–22 April 2015
  • Content preparation of a healthy weight in childhood (up to 18 years) advocacy document for policy makers at national and sub-national levels in low and middle income member states from the WPRO region, April 2015
  • Cost-effectiveness evaluation of PENs, 2015.

Our research program

Our four programs are led by key members of the unit and supported by internal and external partners and collaborators. The settings and research activities vary, as do the methodology and diversity of our programs.

We also have a multiple-partner research program in the Pacific region with an emphasis on NCD research. As part of our commitment to the World Health Organization (WHO), our unit performs a range of research initiatives that focusing on obesity prevention.

Monitoring of non-communicable diseases

In this stream our research projects have an epidemiological focus on monitoring the prevalence of non communicable diseases. Our flagship project, Heart Stats (Australian Heart Disease Statistics project) is led by Dr Melanie Nichols.

Australian Heart Disease Statistics (HeartStats) project

This project is a collaboration between our unit and the National Heart Foundation of Australia. The project presents the most comprehensive and up-to-date picture of coronary heart disease (CHD) and related risk factors in Australia.

Heart disease represents a major and avoidable burden to the health system and population. While the major behavioural and medical risk factors for heart disease are well known, estimating their prevalence in the Australian population can be challenge.

HeartStats collates and analyses existing data sources to provide insights for policy makers, health professionals and the public into the extent of the health burden of CHD in Australia.

The key objectives and outputs of our project are to:

  • Document the current and recent burden of heart disease in Australia, including risk factors and comorbidities
  • Describe the data available regarding heart disease mortality, morbidity, treatment and known modifiable risk factors
  • Highlight limitations in availability of data monitoring heart disease and its risk factors
  • Produce comprehensive annual compendia of heart disease statistics for Australia
  • Produce annual supplementary reports addressing key aspects of or risk factors for heart disease.

HeartStats outputs:

Australian Heart Disease Statistics 2014 

See our special report Australian Heart Disease Statistics: Overweight, Obesity and Cardiovascular Disease – past, present and future

Follow us on Twitter:@HeartStatsAU

Interventions with communities

Our interventions with communities stream has a long history working within communities on obesity prevention. It’s highlighted by the ‘Romp & Chomp, Be Active Eat Well’ and ‘It’s You’re Move’ community-based interventions projects.

Since these projects, the stream has expanded to new methodologies deepening understanding on strategies addressing obesity and NCDs. This has led to significant national and international collaborations where our researchers are working on community childhood obesity interventions.

This stream is led by Dr Claudia Strugnell and Dr Lynne Millar.

Our projects

Our projects include:

  1. Health Together Victoria (HTV) and childhood obesity
  2. Systems Science to Guide whole of Community Childhood Obesity Interventions (COMPACT)
  3. Yarriambiack and Rural North West project
  4. Western Victorian Primary Health Network collaboration
  5. Sea Change Project with Western Alliance and Southern Grampians Glenelg Primary Care Partnership.

Our key outputs


  1. Hoare E, Fuller-Tyszkiewicz M, Skouteris H, Millar L, Nichols M, & Allender S. (2015). Systematic review of mental health and well-being outcomes following community-based obesity prevention interventions among adolescents. BMJ Open, 5:1.
  2. Hoare E, Millar L, Allender S. (2014). It’s Your Move ACT: a 3-year obesity prevention intervention for secondary school students. ACT Population Health Bulletin, 3(1), 24–25.
  3. Hoare, E, Skouteris, H, Fuller-Tyszkiewicz, M, Millar, L, & Allender, S. (2014). Associations between obesogenic risk factors and depression among adolescents: a systematic review. Obesity Reviews, 15(1), 40–51.
  4. Hayward J, Millar L, Petersen S, Swinburn B, & Lewis A. (2014). When Ignorance is Bliss: Weight Perception, Body Mass Index and Quality of Life in adolescents. International Journal of Obesity. 38, 1328–1334. doi:10.1038/ijo.2014.78.
  5. Nicholls L, Lewis A, Petersen S, Allender S, Swinburn B, Moodie M, Millar L. (2014). Parental Encouragement of Healthy Behaviors: Adolescent Weight Status and Health-Related Quality of Life. BMC Public Health, 16;14:369.
  6. Hoare E, Millar L, Fuller- Tyszkiewicz M, Skouteris H, Nichols M, Jacka F, Swinburn B, Chikwendu C, & Allender S. (2014). Associations between obesogenic risk and depressive symptomatology in Australian adolescents: a cross-sectional study. Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, 68:767–772.
  7. Wolfenden L, Wyse R, Nicholas M, Allender S, Millar L, McElduff P. (2014) A systematic review and meta-analysis of whole of community interventions to prevent excessive population weight gain. Preventive Medicine, 62, 193–200.
  8. Swinburn B, Malakellis M, Moodie M, Waters E, Gibbs L, Millar L, Herbert J, Virgo-Milton M, Mavoa H, Kremer P, De Silva-Sanigorski A. (2014). Large reductions in child overweight and obesity in intervention and comparison communities 3y after a community project. Pediatric Obesity. Volume 9, Issue 6, pages 455–462.

Reports (publicly available)

Swinburn B, Shill J, Sacks G, Snowdon W, Strugnell C, Herbert J et al. Frameworks for the major population-based policies to prevent childhood obesity: framework for population-based policies to prevent childhood obesity cost-effectiveness model of the diet component of the global strategy on diet, physical activity and health, Deakin University: Melbourne, 2009.

Food systems and policy analysis

This stream focuses on food environments and related food policy to generate evidence on improving the health of food environments in Australia and globally. The stream leaders are Dr Gary Sacks and Dr Adrian Cameron.

Our research includes:

  • monitoring the healthiness of food environments
  • understanding the policies and processes that shape food environments
  • real-world trials of interventions to improve food environments, with a focus on supermarkets
  • economic evaluation of policies and interventions
  • analysing the influence of the food industry.

Key research initiatives

  • Supermarket project (2015–2016) examines the impact of changes to within-store supermarket marketing and promotion strategies on the healthiness of food purchased.
  • INFORMAS (International Network for Food and Obesity/non-communicable diseases Research, Monitoring and Action support) is global network of public-interest organisations and researchers that aims to monitor, benchmark and support public and private sector actions to create healthy food environments and reduce obesity and non-communicable diseases (NCDs) and related inequalities.
  • Food-EPI Australia (2015–16) is funded by the Australian Prevention Partnership Centre,and will benchmark the obesity prevention policies of Australian state and federal governments through implementing the Food-EPI (Health Food Environment Policy Index) that INFORMAS has developed to assess government policy across 14 action areas relating to food environments.
  • Centre of Research Excellence (CRE) in Policy Research on Obesity and Food Systems (2012–2017). This NHMRC-funded project includes the economic evaluation of 40 obesity prevention interventions across a range of sectors including food, trade, physical activity and urban design.

Pacific non-communicable disease research

This stream works with our Pacific partners, in particular Fiji National University, to support the C-POND initiative (Pacific Centre for Prevention of Obesity and NCDs). We aim to:

  • evaluate the implementation and effectiveness of food-related policy in Pacific countries
  • design new systems thinking approaches to enhance the use of evidence in policy making and make the process more efficient
  • support salt reduction and contribute advice on regulatory approaches to improving the nutrition policy of skills.

Led by Dr Colin Bell and Prof. Marj Moodie, this research also enables our Pacific partners and countries to include strategies for improving food supply, food labelling and marketing regulations within their health policies.

Our current collaborative research activity can be found here:

Webster J, Snowdon W, Moodie M, Viali S, Schultz J, Bell C, Land MA, Downs S, Christoforou A, Dunford E, Barzi F, Woodward M, Neal B. Cost-effectiveness of reducing salt intake in the Pacific Islands: protocol for a before and after intervention study. BMC Public Health 2014; 14: 107.

Centre for Research Excellence

Our unit takes a leadership role for Deakin in its Centre for Research Excellence in Food Policy and Obesity Systems. This Deakin University-led centre brings together expertise from multiple disciplines. We apply innovative methodologies to address the complexity of obesity relating to a community response with emphasis on non-health environments.

Find out more about the centre

Economic evaluation of obesity and chronic disease

Deakin Health Economics has significant expertise in applying economic evaluation and effectiveness techniques to obesity and other chronic diseases. Our unit works closely with the Economics of Obesity stream in the Deakin Health Economics Unit.

Innovative research projects

Our unit’s academic staff support a number of higher degree by research (HDR) students who are undertaking innovative projects focusing on obesity prevention, systems modelling and chronic disease prevention. The following is snapshot of these research activities.

Current HDR projects

Systems theories for community-based obesity prevention
Monica Bensberg

A systems approach to identify community-level elements contributing to childhood obesity in Victoria
Brynle Owen

Systems-thinking and obesity prevention: implications for adolescent mental health
Josh Hayward

Monitoring the actions of the private sector for obesity and non-communicable diseases prevention
Melissa Mialon

What should be the policy priorities to reduce disparities in coronary heart disease mortality among regional
Laura Alston

Friends and health behaviour over the primary-to-secondary school transition
Jenny Marks

Sleep deprivation and obesity among Australian children
Bridget Morrissey

Obesogenic Risks and Depression: Patterns and Prevention during Adolescence
Erin Hoare

Investigation of obesity prevention policy processes
Brydie Clarke

Increasing food resilience in Far North Queensland: engaging for food systems change
Clare Richards

Habits: Reality TV Based Diabetes Prevention Program in India
Shruti Muralidharan

Nutrient profiling for non-communicable disease prevention in the Pacific
Erica Reeve

Major project: Community-based Obesity Prevention Sites (CO-OPS)

Our unit developed and completed a national program, CO-OPS Collaboration that was funded from the Department of Health since 2007.

CO-OPS was a national knowledge translation and exchange platform encouraging health promotion professionals to apply latest research evidence in an effort to prevent obesity and related chronic diseases through a community-wide approach.

CO-OPS coordinated collaborative work between practitioners, researchers and policy officers to promote healthy eating, regular physical activity and healthy weight as key factors preventing chronic diseases.

CO-OPS also disseminated lessons learnt, reducing duplication of effort, maximising efficiencies and resources. Led by Professors Steven Allender and Boyd Swinburn, our unit worked with other universities and leaders in obesity research including Professor Elizabeth Waters at the University of Melbourne, Professor Tim Gill at the University of Sydney and Professor John Coveney at Flinders University.

The CO-OPS network had more than 2000 members, including different health agencies, all levels of government and non-government organisations. Its reach was an estimated 1.4 million Australians each year across all states and territories. Mechanisms to support the CO-OPS members included:

  • tailored advice through a one-on-one knowledge brokering service
  • access to the evidence informed resources
  • professional development and capacity building opportunities
  • networking opportunities, providing occasions to exchange knowledge development of resources such as the Best Practice Principles of Community-based Obesity Prevention and Monitoring Reports.