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Fighting adolescent obesity in the Pacific region

Launch of a French-Australian research group to prevent adolescent obesity

A research node on health and wellness in children and adolescents in the Pacific region was inaugurated on Friday, March 12, 2021. This node will be hosted at the Charles Perkins Centre (Sydney) and will be co-directed by Corinne Caillaud, professor at the University of Sydney, and Olivier Galy, senior lecturer at the University of New Caledonia. It will gather a multidisciplinary team of 45 researchers, who will work together to find solutions to prevent adolescent obesity. These researchers, from 14 research institutions, are located in seven countries of the Pacific: Australia, New Caledonia (France), New Zealand, Fiji, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea. This new node links up with other research networks of the region, such as the New-Caledonia Research Network, and the Sydney Food and Nutrition Network.

One goal: preventing youth obesity in the Pacific region

Obesity and overweight trends among children and adolescents have dramatically increased in the Pacific over the last decades. In New Caledonia for example, researches estimated that 4 out of 10 children were overweight by the age of 12. In Micronesia, 20 to 30% of children between 2 and 8 years of age are affected by obesity. This trend is of concern, as being overweight in youth can lead to diseases such as diabetes or certain cardiovascular diseases in adulthood.

This increase in obesity is multifactorial. The approach of this new node is innovative in two ways: the first is to consider not only the behavioural factors of obesity such as diet or physical activity, but also to take into account the different systems in which adolescents are evolving (for example the environment, whether it is built, natural, social or cultural). The second is a commitment to work collaboratively with adolescents, their families and their communities to understand local contexts and co-create interventions.

An established collaboration between France and Australia

The creation of this new research group follows a 5-years long collaboration between the University of Sydney and the University of New Caledonia (UNC). Research conducted between the Charles Perkins Centre and the Interdisciplinary Educational Research Laboratory (UNC) have already determined the factors associated with overweightness and body dissatisfaction among adolescents from different communities in New Caledonia.

Their research also led to the development of two digital health tools: iEngage and iRecall.24 Pacific. The iEngage digital platform aims to guide children in their physical activity, through 10 modules that are spread over 4 weeks. The iRecall.24 Pacific mobile app allows the user to monitor their daily diet through the contribution of macro and micro nutrients, while relying on food products specific to the Pacific region. Such digital education applications have shown promising results in changing individual attitudes towards nutrition and sport practice.