Using technology platforms to improve the use of chronic disease prevention services to reduce child obesity

What is the problem?

In Australia, 63.4% of adults and a quarter of children are overweight or obese, placing considerable future burden on health infrastructure. As overweight and obesity in childhood and adolescence tracks into adulthood, preventing childhood obesity has been the focus of a recent national senate enquiry and is one of the 12 NSW Premier’s priorities. It. Investment in population-based preventative services, and targeted weight management interventions for healthy eating and physical activity in families has been recommended to mitigate the future obesity related chronic disease burden.

Effectively accessing parents is the primary impediment to successfully recruiting those likely to benefit from preventive health services. Mobile text messaging and app based interventions, however, may provide a highly scalable, effective and cost effective intervention for increasing access to health services.

School-based messaging apps exist in most NSW schools and provide a means of directly communicating with families to provide health information and facilitate use of evidence-based prevention services. The research team has assessed the feasibility and acceptability of the m-health platform in communicating with parents about available evidence-based services and prompting behaviour change.

About the research translation project?

The study will employ a controlled trial design. The primary aim of the intervention is to increase the use of evidence-based government services by delivering health information and referral direct to parents across three LHDs (Hunter New England, Central Coast and Mid-North Coast).

Thirty primary schools who cater for up to 10,000 children and who are current users of the SkoolBag app will receive the electronic messaging intervention. Theoretically based messaging will be designed to provide information and motivate parents to access evidence based services. Principal consent will allow messages to be pushed to all parents of participating schools.

The secondary aims of the project are to assess service uptake, program acceptability and cost effectiveness to inform future dissemination. Evaluation will be conducted in a nested sample of up to 12 schools, including up to six schools receiving the intervention and six serving as a control group.

What will be the impact?

The project has the potential to generate significant population benefit including a reduced obesity prevalence, as well as dietary and physical activity improvements. Not only does this translate to better outcomes for children now and into the future in terms of their health, mental health and success at school and work, but it also impacts upon health infrastructure. Lessened rates of obesity and chronic disease mean reduced health care utilisation and financial burden. 

 

For more information, contact Luke Wolfenden – Luke.Wolfenden@hnehealth.nsw.gov.au