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Digital Toolkit to Help Clinicians Prevent Childhood Obesity

University of Queensland researchers are collaborating with an extensive range of health professionals to re-design and improve strategies to prevent childhood obesity. Aware of the powerful role played by digital technologies, Dietitian and UQ Research Fellow Dr Oliver Canfell is part of a team developing an online tool kit that can be used to prevent obesity in the young.

He noted that obesity is a chronic condition that’s difficult to reverse, which is why prevention is important and most effective in the early years. There have been real-world impacts recently – people with obesity who contract COVID-19 often have worse outcomes than people with a healthy weight. It was also noted that children and families look to health professionals for support but are commonly not receiving care until it is too late. Clinicians need new ways of working so they can focus on prevention, and digital health can help enormously.

The first step towards achieving that goal is the Precision Support for Preventing Childhood Obesity (PRECISE) program, a partnership between UQ and Health and Wellbeing Queensland (HWQld). Almost 20 health professionals including GPs, child health nurses and dietitians have been recruited from across Queensland to design the digital solutions to focus on prevention in routine practice.

The tools designed in the PRECISE program will be available via Clinicians Hub, a central digital platform created by HWQld to help health professionals effectively prevent and manage childhood obesity. The Chief Executive of HWQld noted that obesity had many causes which made it a particularly complex problem to address.

It can be a challenging topic to raise with families, and research shows many doctors feel ill-equipped to manage this complex and sensitive health issue, the expert noted. Clinicians Hub offers a variety of clinical tools, resources and training to help health workers identify, prevent and talk about childhood obesity with confidence and impact.

One-in-four Queensland children and two-in-three adults live above a healthy weight range. These patterns are usually well established before five years of age – so there is a need to get in early.

The UQ Global Change Institute has established a Digital Health Research Network to support PRECISE and other digital health initiatives.

About the Global Change Institute

The Global Change Institute draws together research excellence and expertise from across UQ, industry, government and the community to address grand challenges which deliver impact to society, the economy, the environment, and culture.

Addressing global challenges requires strong transdisciplinary teams to deliver pathways to impact. With the help of the UQ research community, the Global Change Institute is developing multiple Collaborative Research Initiatives (CRIs) to address global challenges.

For example, The Healthy Kids and Families Collaborative Research Initiative (CRI) focuses on addressing the importance of community-based, co-designed interventions to address the needs of children, adolescents and their families in the health system and ensuring they have a healthy, productive and long life.

Examples of the challenges this CRI will address with stakeholders include:

  • complexities experienced by families in navigating the health system and obtaining timely and appropriate health care, and ongoing support for children with complex needs
  • specific and unmet needs of families of children with physical, neurodevelopmental and/or learning challenges
  • promotion of healthy eating and physical activity behaviours established in families and day-care centres, pre-schools and schools, and
  • systemic inequities between children to achieve optimal health outcomes, healthy behaviours and access to health services (e.g., socioeconomic differences).
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