A University of Wollongong team has received a $1 million grant to help get little kids off the couch.
Early childhood expert Professor Tony Okely and his team will use the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) project grant to fund a four-year study aimed at increasing the activity levels of children aged three to five.
Prof Okely said it was vital to reduce the sitting time of kids in this age group in order to reduce the alarming, and ever increasing, rate of childhood obesity.
‘‘About 20per cent of Australian children are already considered overweight or obese at three to five years of age, and only around 6per cent of children this age meet the national recommendations for physical activity,’’ he said.
‘‘So it’s important that we develop health guidelines for these very young children who are not doing enough physical activity, who are sitting for long periods of time and who are consuming unhealthy foods.
‘‘Traditional ways of treating this problem have been costly and not particularly successful, so we intend to use a new inter-disciplinary approach to tackle the problem.’’
Prof Okely said the project would involve UOW’s Early Start initiative and would run in conjunction with 38 childcare settings from Bellambi to Broken Hill.
‘‘We’ll work with childcare educators to look at ways of modifying and improving their physical activity programs in order to promote more physical activity and reduce sedentary behaviour,’’ he said.
‘‘There will also be a home component where we will work with parents on things they can do in the home environment to increase activity.’’
Prof Okely said the project aimed to increase the activity levels of young children by 45minutes a day, which would improve their health long term.
‘‘Above all we want to look at enhancing the quality of childcare education at this critical time in their lives when they are more receptive to learning, and when the inequality gaps around health and education are smallest,’’ he said.
‘‘We know that if we can intervene at this young age, that can change the trajectory of what happens afterwards in terms of positive health and life outcomes.’’
The NHMRC project grant was one of five awarded to UOW researchers last week by Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Health Minister Peter Dutton.
The other successful UOW grants will look at a range of areas, including developing intelligent conducting polymers to treat schizophrenia and the relationship between vitamin B12 and neuro-degenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease.