Twelve government areas in Victoria's north-east are taking part in an innovative program designed to reduce the region's childhood obesity rates.
$4.1 million in funding from the National Health and Medical Research Centre (NHMRC) will see the initiative - called RESPOND - work with communities to drive positive and practical changes from the ground up.
Over the next five years, RESPOND will engage with 14 of the region's health services and 116 schools. This will reach more than 30,000 children ages up to 12 years.
Local areas included in the program are Alpine, Benalla, Greater Shepparton, Indigo, Mansfield, Mitchell, Moira, Murrindindi, Strathbogie, Towong, Wangaratta and Wodonga.
Lead investigator Professor Steven Allender, Director of the Global Obesity Centre in the Institute for Health Transformation, said RESPOND would work with communities to help them identify their own community-specific actions to create healthier food environments and get local kids more active.
"Changes will range from big to small," Professor Allender said.
"They could include the ways organisations allocate funding, local government approaches to zoning and licensing, removal of sugar sweetened beverages from community facilities, establishing walking school buses, introducing healthy options at school canteens, or improving the availability of tap water in public settings.
"RESPOND will offer the region a cutting edge approach to support communities to successfully address the complex drivers of childhood obesity.
Goulburn Valley Primary Care Partnership’s Executive Officer, Craig Chadwick said “The work that has occurred in Shepparton and Numurkah over the last 2 years will be strengthened, with the same processes now to occur on a larger scale and capturing local information previously unknown”.
"The initiative includes training those people working in community, health and education to apply methods from 'systems science' to the prevention of obesity and the establishment of a long-term childhood obesity monitoring system for evaluation for future population health initiatives and strategies”.
"Ultimately it's (RESPOND) about encouraging an informed, whole of community approach to create local healthy environments that helps our children get the best start to life, because global research shows that improving local community capacity is a key driver of reducing childhood obesity levels."
Professor Allender said it was critical to focus on providing a healthy environment for children, as this had a positive flow-on effect to the whole community. "Community interventions are proving their effectiveness all around the world, so this is the next evolution in this approach."