With Professor David Crawford

26 July 17

Sure, everyone knows that we need to eat more fruit and vegetables and exercise more. But that vital step between reading the fact sheets and making real life healthy living choices is a stumbling block that has thwarted many good intentions. Until now.

Deakin University’s Centre for Physical Activity and Nutrition Research (C-PAN) believes it has found the missing link.

Professor David Crawford says ‘When we started doing research into obesity, especially obesity in children, people thought we were crazy! But look where we are now.’

Where we are now is alarming. ‘The statistics tell us that around 25 to 30 per cent of Australian primary school age children are considered overweight or obese,’ says Professor Crawford. ‘We are second only to the USA. If the trend continues, Australia is set to become the most obese country in the world.’

So Professor Crawford gathered together an eclectic team of exercise scientists, nutritionists, psychologists and sociologists and got to work. 

One of their greatest successes has been the InFANT (Infant Feeding Activity and Nutrition Trial) program, which targets mothers of children aged 3 to 18 months.

‘We know that knowledge is not enough, that you need to talk to people about strategies and you need to provide a social environment that supports them,’ says Professor Crawford.

‘It’s not just knowing you should play with your child, it’s knowing how to play. It’s not just knowing you shouldn’t watch TV, it’s having strategies to cope when your child throws a temper tantrum because they want to watch TV.’

‘It’s not just knowing you should play with your child, it’s knowing how to play. It’s not just knowing you shouldn’t watch TV, it’s having strategies to cope when your child throws a temper tantrum because they want to watch TV.’

In the InFANT program, mothers are provided with information about healthy lifestyle choices and encouraged to share tips and helpful advice with each other.

‘A lot of the time it’s not just lack of education,’ he continues ‘In many causes we were looking at what is “normal” within that community.’

The C-PAN team knew that in their quest for an answer, they would have to get into the communities and the places where dietary decisions are made. So they teamed up with Coles supermarkets and the Heart Foundation for a ground-breaking study.

‘There are many ways we can help the community,’ explains Professor Crawford. ‘There are a whole lot of leverage points. We can work with some of them but not all of them and that’s where collaboration comes in.

‘We knew that one of the ways to get people to eat more fruit and vegetables is to provide greater skills in how to shop and prepare food, and we wanted to see if a modest price reduction would increase people’s purchasing and consumption of fruit and vegetables.’ 

Coles provided C-PAN with access to its customers as well as data from its flybuys program, which detailed items purchased.

The result? It worked. ‘Even a small price decrease saw sales and consumption increase,’ says Professor Crawford. ‘We are now able to demonstrate to people that choosing fruit and vegetables has a tangible impact on the family’s budget.’

‘If we can set kids on a healthy living trajectory, then everything else will follow,’ says Professor Crawford. ‘And that’s what we are doing.’

‘If we can set kids on a healthy living trajectory, then everything else will follow’

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