Supporting families and children during the first 2000 days

Our research group is dedicated to supporting families and children during the critical 'First 2000 days'. We work closely with Local Health Districts, Family Day Care, Early Childhood Education and Care providers, and community groups to develop and implement effective strategies that create healthy environments where children live, learn and play.

Supporting Healthy Eating and Active Living (HEAL) in Family Day Care

  • Anthony Okely (Supervisor) 
  • Bridget Kelly (Supervisor) 
  • Megan Hammersley (Supervisor) 
  • Georgie Tran (PhD Candidate) 
  • Sarah Ryan 
  • Jenny Norman – Research Coordinator based in ISLHD (Honorary position, School of Health and Society, UOW)
  • South Western Sydney Local Health District
  • Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District (Supervisor)
  • Centre for Population Health 
  • Erin Kerr (PhD Completion) 

Since the first round of PRSP funding commenced in 2017, the ENHANCE research group has conducted an observational and policy audit of the Healthy Eating and Active Living (HEAL) environments in the Family Day Care sector. This primarily focused on services located in the Illawarra Shoalhaven and South Western Sydney Local Health Districts. This research formed part of Dr Erin Kerr’s PhD thesis. 

Georgie Tran commenced her PhD in 2021, taking the findings from our earlier audit of Family Day Care services and policies and using this to inform the development of an online resource for the sector to support healthy food practices.  Georgie has worked closely with our partner LHD’s and Family Day Care stakeholders, including educators, to develop a self-assessment quality improvement plan to support educators and service providers to provide best practice HEAL environments within their services. This website tool is being pilot tested for acceptability in 2023, with a  state-wide efficacy trial planned for later in 2023. 

First Bite - Get it Right

Healthy Eating in Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC)

  • Bridget Kelly (Supervisor) 
  • Megan Hammersley (Supervisor) 
  • Jenny Norman – Research Coordinator based in ISLHD (Supervisor) (Honorary position, School of Health and Society, UOW) 
  • Sharon Duncan (PhD Candidate)
  • Sarah Ryan
  • Soo Jin Park (Postdoc)
  • Western Sydney Local Health District
  • Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District
  • Centre for Population Health 

We have conducted preliminary work within the Early Start Discovery Space and Early Start food skills kitchen, including gardening projects, tasting experiments with children using the garden and kitchen facilities, and simulated grocery store activities. We have undertaken substantial formative research to guide the development of good practice experiential learning activities to promote healthy eating to children, this has included focus groups with parents and a systematic literature review, led by PhD student Sumantla Varman.

Findings from our systematic review showed that the most common experiential learning activities used by studies that demonstrated positive food-related outcomes among preschoolers include sensory evaluation (feel, touch), games, and creative arts activities. Furthermore, previous work by our group with parents of young children has indicated that narrative-style videos accompanied by short text messages are a highly acceptable medium to receive healthy eating information.

In partnership with CPH, ISLHD, and WSLHD, we will develop, implement, and evaluate an evidence-based program called 'First Bite - Get it Right'. The program seeks to improve children’s nutrition literacy and intakes of fruits and vegetables through hands-on experiential learning and the reinforcement of this learning at home. It will build on the previous work that we have conducted in this area, combining several strategies developed in consultation with key stakeholders, as research demonstrates that multi-component interventions which are tailored to local population needs are more likely to be successful.  

Key strategies will include:  

  • hands-on experiential learning activities at ECEC 
  • a daily vegetable break at ECEC
  • parent-targeted nutrition promotion messaging via ECECs, and  
  • reinforcement of experiential eating and healthy food practices at home.  

The project will also involve substantive formative work to facilitate the co-design of the intervention activities and materials by key stakeholders.  We will then conduct a pilot RCT followed by an efficacy trial of the intervention. 

Healthy Bytes

Supporting healthy digital technology use in young children

  • Dylan Cliff (Supervisor) 
  • Anthony Okely (Supervisor) 
  • Nadia Zainuddin (Supervisor) 
  • William Tregea (PhD Candidate) 
  • Sarah Ryan 
  • South Western Sydney Local Health District (Supervisor) 

Through consultation with our partners in South Western Sydney Local Health District and data collected from the Population health survey data for childhood obesity in 2019, it was established that digital technology use or 'screen time' in children was a significant concern. It is anticipated that screen time among children aged 3–5 years may have increased as a result of COVID-19 lockdowns, particularly for those in populations living in the four most heavily locked down Local Government Areas in South Western Sydney Local Health District. 

With our partners and in consultation with families, we will conduct preliminary research to guide the development of a health promotion intervention to support healthy and reduce unhealthy screen time in preschool-aged children (aged 3-5 years), with a particular focus on the transition to school. This project will focus on COVID-19 recovery in the most heavily affected populations within South Western Sydney. This project is designed to ensure our vulnerable populations are supported to 'live life well after lockdown'.

The project will use mixed methods to understand:

  1. population levels of screen time among children in South Western Sydney;
  2. the family screen time context following the COVID-19 lockdown, and;
  3. parents’ perspectives on the most desirable intervention approaches, and the acceptability of developed intervention materials and strategies.

Breastfeeding Research to Improve Growth, Health, and Translation (BRIGHT)

A data-driven approach to enhance breastfeeding strategy and Child and Family support in Southern NSW.

  • Lisa Smithers 
  • Sarah Ryan
  • Pramesh Ghimire – Research Coordinator based in SNWLHD
  • Southern NSW Local Health District 

The second round of the Prevention Research Support Program (PRSP)  funding has opened the opportunity to expand our work to include antenatal and postnatal care in the Southern New South Wales (NSW) Local Health District (LHD). The first step in our process is to work with the health service, to identify key areas that also align with the SNSW LHD strategic plan and with the NSW Rural Health Plan to optimise care.

In accordance with best practice, the BRIGHT project aims to create a reliable data source to inform the Southern New South Wales (SNSW) breastfeeding strategy that guides the Midwifery and Child and Family Nurse workforce. We hope to build local knowledge to promote breastfeeding as per the World Health Organization guidelines, the ‘First 2000 Days’ Framework and the ‘Australian Breastfeeding Strategy 2019 and Beyond’. We will strengthen collaborative relationships that build research capacity in SNSW.  

We will examine the rate of, and factors associated with exclusive breastfeeding in Southern NSW local health district at discharge, 2 weeks, 6 weeks, 4 months and 6 months.