A new collaboration between researchers at the Charles Perkins Centre, University of Sydney and the University of New Caledonia is looking at the health and wellbeing of 1.5 million adolescents across the Pacific.
In the Pacific region, the health and wellbeing of young people are threatened by the increasing prevalence of overweight and obesity which ranges from 12-30 percent and up to 60 percent in some countries.
Collaborative research and partnerships across the Pacific region are pivotal in solving this complex problem. A new research node has been established at the Charles Perkins Centre to garner existing research and local knowledge while working with communities. Children and adolescents’ health and wellbeing in the Pacific (CAHW-Pacific) is co-led by Professor Corinne Caillaud at the University of Sydney and Associate Professor Olivier Galy at the University of New Caledonia. The research node builds on existing active research networks in the region, including Pacific Islands University Research Network, Family Farming, Lifestyle And Health in the Pacific (FALAH), and Sydney Food and Nutrition Network.
“Research collaborations and engagement with communities are integral to addressing the issue of obesity and overweight in the Pacific region,” says research node co-lead, Professor Corinne Caillaud.
This new research node brings together health researchers from seven Pacific countries including Australia, New Caledonia, Fiji, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, and New Zealand. It’s a significant breadth of land and sea area, as well as population diversity, and we rely on local knowledge and expertise to develop our research”
Professor Caillaud and Associate Professor Galy have been working on a number of programs in this region since 2015. The relationships they have built with health professionals, government and communities in the Pacific has and will continue to be crucial to the success of the project.
“This new research node brings together health researchers from seven Pacific countries including Australia, New Caledonia, Fiji, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, and New Zealand. It’s a significant breadth of land and sea area, as well as population diversity, and we rely on local knowledge and expertise to develop our research,” said Professor Caillaud.
The issue of overweight and obesity in the Pacific region is urgent and requires immediate interventions to address a large cohort of existing and potential future health issues and costs.
“For example in New Caledonia, our work shows that about 35 percnet of 11 to 15 years old adolescents are overweight or obese, half of them under-estimating their weight. It is noteworthy that 70 percent of the adolescents living with overweight or obesity were disatisfied with their body image. Habits that were related to overweight included skipping breakfast, high soft drinks consumption, or dietary patterns, while ethnicity and living in rural areas also played a role.
However, the problem needs to be reframed to enhance young people’s health and wellbeing not only their current lives but also their adult lives, future generations and society as a whole,” said Associate Professor Galy.
“We aim to engage and partner with adolescents in co-designing research projects. This is the best approach to understand their lifestyle, knowledge, views and attitudes towards health and wellbeing,” said Professor Caillaud.
The current focus is on understanding how physical activity and food intake interplay and drive overweight and obesity in Pacific context. Similarly to elsewhere worldwide, adolescents in the Pacific fail to engage in the recommended 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous daily physical activity as advised by WHO. For example, in New Caledonia only 14 percent of girls and 25 percent of boys met these recommendations.
“We demonstrated that a user-centred digital education program using a combination of wearable technology, peer learning, physical exercises and goals setting could be delivered in school context in rural areas of New Caledonia,.The program, called iEngage effectively enhanced physical activity,” explained Professor Caillaud.
“iEngage (co-designed with eHealth company BEPATIENT specialising in modular patient-centric digital solutions), records continuously physical activity during the whole program. This is key to assessing physical activity patterns and to support the learning of key concepts and skills, as well as understanding how participants change their physical activity behaviour, said Associate Professor Yacef, expert in computer science at the University of Sydney and co-creator of iEngage.
The team also investigates the impact of the food transition that is happening across the region. We have recently co-designed the first digital 24hr dietary recall app (iRecall.24-Pacific) tailored to the food available in New Caledonia.
“This means that we have identified relevant foods to include in our database that contains both traditional and imported processed foods. The iRecall.24-Pacific app is modifiable and adaptable to the diverse islands’ contexts,” said Professor Caillaud.
We aim to bring together iRecall.24 and iEngage to draw both the quantitative and qualitative features of energy expenditure and energy intake in adolescents,” said Professor Caillaud.
“Our work and our approach are relevant to Australia and to other communities and countries worldwide,” said Associate Professor Galy.
“The CAHW-Pacific research node will continue developing collaborations to reach authentic engagement with communities and to produce research with impact that will benefit Pacific people and societies. For these we are aiming to secure further funding grant in order to deploy our framework.
“The future of our Pacific adolescents depends on it,” concluded Professor Caillaud.
This article was first published in Research Australia’s INSPIRE publication.