Researchers to tackle childhood obesity at new Sydney research hub

With one-in-five children in Australia considered to be overweight or obese by the time they start school, the University of Sydney has launched a new specialist research centre to tackle the problem.

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The $2.5 million Early Prevention of Obesity in Childhood Centre is housed at the Charles Perkins Centre at the University of Sydney and is funded until 2020. It will bring together paediatricians, dietitians, health experts, economists and exercise physiologists to form a multidisciplinary approach to childhood obesity.

University of Sydney Professor Louise Baur said she hoped the centre would make it easier for parents and carers to make informed choices.

“You have to say no about 75 to 100 times per grocery store visit.”

“It’s harder than ever to raise healthy children if you’re a busy parent, given the broader world in which we live. We want to support parents in doing this,” she said.

For Becky Freeman, “the shopping centre is a minefield” with her 4-year-old son Jaspar.

“If you can get through all of the aisles without buying cookies or biscuits and cakes… then you’ve got the actual till itself where lollies are advertised and lollipops,” she said.

“So you have to say no about 75 to 100 times per grocery store visit.”

As well as focusing on nutrition and physical activity, the centre’s researchers will examine the impact of sleep and screen time on childhood obesity.

“(We’ve looked at) how much time children watch television and are exposed to other screens like smartphones and tablets, and we find there’s definitely a relationship (to their weight),” said Professor Stewart Trost of the Queensland University of Technology.

Ms Freeman says, as a busy parent, reducing her child’s screen time is a daily challenge.

“It can be really easy to say – ‘you just watch a movie while I get that done’. And you just realise how quickly that eats into their activity time,” she said.

Another aim of the research group is to assess the economic impacts of good health and nutrition in early life and the flow-on effects into adulthood.

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