Improving family diets

What can be done at a policy level to encourage families to improve dietary choices?

Research tells us that the first 1000 days – the period between conception and a child’s second birthday – are critical for establishing lifestyle behaviours that will determine a person’s risk of developing obesity.

As part of a coalition of leading Victorian health agencies, IPAN is calling for more preventative action on childhood obesity. Last month, the coalition released a consensus statementA Healthier Start for Victorians, which highlights the alarming fact that almost a quarter of Victorian children are overweight or obese and that risk for obesity begins from the start of life.

The statement also included eight policy recommendations to address the crisis, one of which is to implement initiatives to improve family diets, particularly in children’s early years.

The recommendation for a plan to increase ‘food literacy’ – the awareness of healthy foods and how to eat them – would help decrease the rate of childhood obesity and lead to better health outcomes in our community.

One initiative that is making a difference in that crucial first 1000 days is IPAN’s evidence-based INFANT. The program is presented in the consensus statement as an example of a positive policy intervention.

Pioneered by IPAN’s Professor Karen Campbell and A/Prof Kylie Hesketh and funded through two National Health and Medical Research Centre (NHMRC) grants, as well as a World Cancer Research Fund Grant, INFANT supports first-time parents to help their children eat healthily and be active.

INFANT is a practical, low-cost program that is delivered directly to parents by Maternal and Child Health Nurses or community dietitians,” Prof Campbell said.

“We have the research and the evidence to show that INFANT helps parents and caregivers achieve healthy eating and active play right from the start of life.

“Families who participated in the INFANT randomised controlled trial reported less TV viewing time and better dietary habits, such as more fruits and vegetables, more water and less sugar sweetened beverages, and sweet snacks – and that these effects are maintained, indeed improve as children grow older.”

Prof Campbell said the Victorian government had been a long-term partner of the project, supporting IPAN with piloting INFANT in selected communities to test community uptake and satisfaction with the program.

“With the successful pilot behind us, and an NHMRC funded Partnership Grant bringing all interested parties together, we are now working in partnership to implement INFANT across all local government areas, especially in those areas of greatest need,” she said.

Another IPAN project highlighted in the consensus statement, ShopSmart 4 Health, is a behavioural intervention aimed at increasing fruit and vegetable consumption among socio-economically disadvantaged women.

“At IPAN we believe there is a need for a greater focus on prevention, and not just treatment, of health problems,” Prof Campbell said.

“Through our research, we aim to improve health across all life stages and a large portion of our research focuses on vulnerable groups, such as infants, children and disadvantaged communities.

“In the long term, preventative actions are more cost effective. Major health problems such as obesity, cost our communities significantly and place an enormous burden on our health care system.

“We have evidence-based solutions designed and tested in Victoria. Now we need to work together to implement and scale up these successful interventions to benefit all Victorians, no matter where they live, work and play,” she said.


Click here for more information about Deakin IPAN’s research into physical activity and nutrition or follow us on Twitter @DeakinIPAN

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