The University of Newcastle
In Australia, obesity has overtaken tobacco as the leading cause of death and disability, representing a significant health and social burden that is costing our country $58 billion per year. Of greatest concern is the increasing obesity rates amongst children, with 27% of children now classified as obese or overweight. On the basis of existing trends in child obesity, the life expectancy of children today will fall by two years by the time they reach the age of 20.
Obesity can be mentally and physically tough on children, as it has the potential to lead to higher risks of premature death, chronic disease and mental health issues, such as, low self-perception, and increased depression and anxiety.
135,000 lunchboxes are packed for primary school children every day in the Hunter New England region. Currently, these lunchboxes contain about 270,000 items of junk food. As the school lunchbox contains one third of a child's daily intake, there is a great opportunity to reduce the risk factors for chronic ill health by improving food consumed at school.
University of Newcastle researchers at the Hunter New England Population Research Group (HNEPHRG) seek to improve the health of populations through the development, evaluation and implementation of innovative services and programs. One of their flagship initiatives, delivered in collaboration with the Hunter New England Local Health District, is the Good for Kids, Good for Life program designed to support early childhood education and care services, schools and parents to promote and improve healthy eating and physical activity habits of children with the ultimate aim of decreasing childhood overweight and obesity.
We were pleased to provide a three-year grant to the University of Newcastle through our prevention focused Multi-Year Partnership program to develop the SWAP-It program that was delivered in collaboration with leading school-home communication app, Skoolbag.
Working with 150 Hunter New England schools, the SWAP-It program promoted the benefits of packing a healthy lunchbox to parents and carers of primary school aged children, encouraging them to SWAP in healthy foods and SWAP out unhealthy foods in the lunch box, every day.
Through the Skoolbag app, parents and carers can access information, resources and support relevant to achieving a healthy lunchbox. The program also utilises behaviour change techniques known to improve health behaviours such as prompts and reminders, goal setting, monitoring and reinforcement.
Implementing a widely accessible prevention program that prevents excessive weight gain from occurring in the first place is recommended as one of the most cost effective approaches to improving community health and wellbeing.
SWAP-It provided an easily accessible forum to engage parents and carers in a conversation about the benefits of a healthy lunchbox for their children.
This program was progressively rolled out to 165 schools over four years and its impact was rigorously evaluated via a randomised controlled trial. The study also monitored the level of reach, uptake and engagement by schools and parents and continuously refined based on research findings.
With this intervention reaching over 34,000 school children it has improved the nutritional content of school lunchboxes with a reduction of 117 kilojoules according to an evaluation study. Improving our habits towards the simple task of packing a lunchbox can have a far-reaching impact on children and families in Australia - improving nutrition, reducing excessive energy intake and unhealthy weight gain, limiting the risk of developing chronic disease in the future, as well as improving children's ability to learn and thrive.
Visit Good For Kids Good for Life for more info.