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Building sustainable cross-sector collaboration

Monday, 23 April 2012

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Despite a lack of evidence on how best to prevent overweight and obesity in young children and their families, to do nothing is not an option says Dr Lydia Hearn, senior research fellow at ECU's Child Health Promotion Research Centre.

"More than 20 percent of Australian children aged 2 to 3 years are either overweight or obese, and research has indicated that a child who gains excessive weight in the first two years of life has double to triple the likelihood of being overweight during puberty and later life."

To halt and reverse this rise in overweight and obesity, the ECU-led Starting Childhood Obesity Prevention Earlier (SCOPE) project involved strong cross-sector collaboration aimed at supporting pregnant women and parents of newborn children to improve their health lifestyles.

"To achieve this, the first stage of the project involved a series of consultative forums, workshops, roundtables and individual meetings with stakeholders and health care providers in maternal and child health," Dr Hearn says.  "The aim was to identify a pilot study suitable for Western Australia.

"The agreed outcome was to develop a perinatal web-based support network to engage with parents about healthy personal and family lifestyles. At this point, after 18 months of discussion, the SCOPE project was born and strong commitment by all stakeholders led to further funding from the WA Department of Health."

Instead of the simply recruiting a cadre of GPs, nutritionists, midwives, child care nurses and psychologists to tell parents how to control their diet and exercise, the team led by Dr Hearn conducted interviews and focus groups with pregnant and postnatal women, intercept interviews with fathers and health providers, and on-line surveys of hospital-based healthcare providers.

"We wanted them to tell us what information they felt was most needed, in what form, from whom, and how best it should be presented," she says. "With responses from hundreds of metropolitan and rural women, it became apparent that young Australian parents over-whelmingly looked to the Internet as their primary source of health information. In particular, mothers want access to reliable online information 24 hours a day, accessible from anywhere including through their mobile phones."

"Further research and discussion with stakeholders indicated the need for a website and smart phone app for antenatal and postnatal mothers, fathers, and healthcare providers," Dr Hearn says. "The stakeholder committee highlighted the need for this information to be presented on a quality-assured website to which GPs and nurses could refer parents. The Ngala website was chosen and a legal agreement was developed through ECU and Ngala, the Perth-based independent provider of early parenting and early childhood services.

"The Healthy You, Healthy Baby smart phone app and online resources have been designed to inform new mothers of the benefits of a healthy lifestyle for themselves and their children. It will be launched in May. Using the smart phone app young parents will be able to assess their needs and access relevant information on the website or will be directed to sources of further information. Once they register, the information will be tailored to the individual user's requirements and they will receive personalised messages and news reflecting the antenatal or postnatal stage they have reached. They will also be able to track their weight online."

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