UOW and WHO join forces to advise the region on children’s nutrition and physical activity

UOW and WHO join forces to advise the region on children’s nutrition and physical activity

UOW academics to support WHO Western Pacific nations on key health research

The University of Wollongong (UOW) has been invited to form a World Health Organisation (WHO) Collaborating Centre to offer expert advice and technical support to WHO Western Pacific member nations in the areas of children’s food, nutrition and physical activity.

Based out of UOW’s Early Start and the School of Health and Society and led by Associate Professor Bridget Kelly and Distinguished Professor Anthony Okely, this is the first time UOW has established a WHO Collaborating Centre.

Program co-Director, Associate Professor Bridget Kelly said that the invitation recognises UOW researchers as global experts in nutrition and physical activity for children.

“Through the Collaborating Centre, we will provide technical support and expertise to WHO to support countries in the Western Pacific in developing, researching, and implementing and evaluating policies and programs related to children's nutrition and activity.

“Our work through the Centre will involve providing policy and program support to governments, including advising on technical aspects, and supporting and co-designing research to progress-related policies. Some of these policy areas include controls to protect children from unhealthy food marketing, signposting food healthfulness through nutrition-labelling, and surveillance of young children’s physical activity,” Associate Professor Kelly said.

The Collaborating Centre will offer support to WHO Western Pacific nations in four main areas of focus: food marketing; food labelling for promoting healthy diet; guidelines, standards and action plans around healthy eating and physical activity among children; and generating regional evidence on children’s dietary and physical activity behaviours.

“Unhealthy food marketing impacts children's diets. Restrictions to marketing exposure are important from a whole population’s perspective.

“The WHO has established that member states in the region are experiencing gaps in their capacity to design and implement policies to protect children from the harmful impacts of food marketing. UOW expertise will help to guide policy and deliver training in this key focus area,” Associate Professor Kelly said.

“WHO Collaborating Centres are by invitation only and a pre-requisite is a minimum of three years of collaborative research with the WHO across a range of projects. They are considered highly prestigious in public health, so we are delighted to be partnering with the WHO Western Pacific Region to support and advise on their important work in children’s nutrition and physical activity” Professor Okely said.

Food labelling is another area that is a real priority for many countries. Proper, informative food labelling can support people to make healthy choices when buying packaged food, and there is a particular focus on front-of-pack signposting of more wholesome foods. UOW will lead an evidence review that will inform the WHO Guidelines for Nutrition Labelling and lead the development of guiding principles on front-of-pack labelling.

The Collaborating Centre will also tackle non-communicable diseases in children, strategies to end childhood obesity and address sedentary behaviour, especially in early childhood education and care settings.

At the request of WHO, the Collaborating Centre will be available to conduct research on focus areas and support countries in their implementation of evidence-based policies and programs, in line with the WHO recommendations. The Collaborating Centre will also support research capacity across the region and will provide opportunities for UOW research student engagement.

UOW Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Vice-President (Research and Sustainable Futures) Professor David Currow said taking a key role in ensuring healthy lives and promoting wellbeing for all ages is core to the University’s goals.

“In supporting the WHO in the Western Pacific with our world-leading research and expertise, UOW will be working within our region on addressing complex, real-world problems. The solutions we are working towards can have a significant impact on future generations and a world-changing impact for the health of the region.”