A new healthy lifestyle program which expects to improve children's eating habits, physical activity, screen time and sleep as well as help them reach and maintain a healthy weight, is being trialled in the Illawarra.
Researchers from the University of Wollongong are seeking children and their carers to take part in a trial of the Fit4Life Program.
Dr Joanne Morris, a paediatrician in the Faculty of Science, Medicine and Health and the Illawarra Health and Medical Research Institute, is running the free 10-week program at the UOW for children aged 4-7 who are above a healthy weight.
Dr Morris said that childhood is the most critical time for the development of healthy lifestyle habits, which are not only important for physical health, but for social and emotional wellbeing.
''It becomes more challenging to change unhealthy behaviours as children get older, so it is important that healthy habits like healthy eating and physical activity are established early,'' she said.
We are very interested in helping to prevent these problems in childhood, before they start to take hold.Dr Joanne Morris
''The influence of parents at this stage is vitally important, which is why this program includes both children and their carers.''
Dr Morris has noted the increasing prevalence of overweight and obesity in children in the Illawarra and the health problems that can be associated with being an unhealthy weight.
Asthma, sleep apnoea and even bone and joint problems can be some of the short-term complications of childhood obesity.
In the long-term, obesity can cause problems such as high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and liver disease.
''We are very interested in helping to prevent these problems in childhood, before they start to take hold,'' she said.
The study will provide children with the opportunity to participate in fun, active sessions while their carers learn about healthier food choices, ways to increase their children’s physical activity, and participate in cooking sessions.
Carers will be asked to answer a series of questionnaires looking at dietary intake, activity levels, the child’s sleep, and their confidence to make lifestyle changes.
The child will have measurements of their weight and activity levels performed at the beginning and conclusion of the program.
Dr Morris said the study focuses on providing guidance and support on how to implement changes, rather than simply supplying information.
The program will also be facilitated by physical activity leaders, a psychologist and a dietitian.
''The program provides a supportive environment to help families to establish life-long healthy habits in the areas of healthy eating, physical activity, screen-time and sleep.’’