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

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What is the problem?

One in four Australian children is overweight or obese, indicating considerable future burden on health services. As overweight and obesity in childhood and adolescence track into adulthood, and overweight and obesity contribute significantly to Australia’s burden of disease, preventing childhood obesity is both a national and state priority. Australian governments have invested in population-based prevention services and targeted weight management interventions for children and families, however, these services are not being fully utilised.

The primary impediment to enrolling children and families who are likely to benefit from these programs is providers’ lack of direct access to parents. Text messaging and app-based interventions may provide a highly scalable, effective and efficient intervention to increase participation.

About the research translation project

School-based messaging apps are used in most NSW schools and offer a means of communicating directly with families to provide health information and facilitate the use of evidence-based prevention services. Prior to this project, the research team had successfully piloted the use of the m health platform, an online school communication tool, to inform parents about available evidence-based services and to prompt behaviour change.

This project has been using the m-health platform to deliver health information and promote NSW Government programs targeting obesity prevention and weight management services across three local health districts (Hunter New England, Central Coast and Mid North Coast). The programs being promoted in this project are Go4Fun (family treatment), Active Kids Vouchers ($100 rebate for participation in organised sport) and Get Healthy (telephone counselling).

Parents in the Hunter New England region began receiving messages in 2019, and parents in the remaining regions received their first messages in early 2020.

What will be the impact?

The project is expected to increase the use of evidence-based government services by providing health information and promoting enrolment in evidence-based lifestyle programs directly to parents. 

Increasing enrolment in these programs is expected to achieve improvements in participants’ diets and an increase in physical activity. This is expected to translate to better physical and mental health outcomes for the children and their families, which, in turn, will help reduce obesity and chronic disease in rural and regional NSW.

Enrolments in the targeted programs, the acceptability of direct messaging and cost effectiveness are currently being assessed to inform future work. If effective, this project will provide a model for broader application across schools using an existing school-based communication app provider.

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