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February 21st, 2013
Australia’s Fight Against Child Obesity Gets a Technological Boost

The move is part of a wider evaluation of the Obesity Prevention and Lifestyle (OPAL) program – which supports children’s health through their families and communities – and will monitor playgrounds, recreation and other facilities in a number of communities to identify areas for improvement  and better target State and Local Governments’ intervention efforts.

OPAL Evaluation Manager Dr Michelle Jones said the project was needed to reduce future pressure on state health systems and encourage children to live healthier lives.

“More than a quarter of Australian children overweight or obese,” said Dr Jones. “There is a clear link between childhood obesity and obesity in adulthood, so it’s vital for us to act as early as possible. Through this research project, we aim to identify environments where kids are most at risk of obesity so we can implement preventative measures in these areas.”

SA Health Information Systems, Standards & Quality Senior Manager Susie Butler said GIS technology is used to layer information about the facilities over demographic information to make better decisions about where and what help is needed.

“The program’s field teams gather the information required for the evaluation using mobile devices connected to our central GIS technology,” Ms Butler said.

“They input and upload information about the locations and conditions of facilities and resources that we know impact childhood obesity, such as playgrounds, ovals and bike tracks, food outlets and water fountains.

“Mapping this data gives us a greater understanding of the relationships between where the resources exist, what condition they are in and who lives near them.

“The technology empowers researchers to monitor programs and environments that support healthy choices.”

Esri Australia Business Manager David Trengove said the next stage of the research would involve using the technology to map and analyse the data.

“Once the data is plotted over a base map of the area, gaps where there is little or no access to nearby healthy environments can easily be identified,” Mr Trengove said. “By adding information about childhood obesity rates, researchers gain insight into the impact of health promoting environments, and determine where targeted programs and infrastructure are required. For example, if there is a high rate of child obesity in an area that has no parks or playgrounds, they can see there’s a need to address that.”

Dr Jones said the program’s results will be re-evaluated in the final year of program operation.

“Over the next five years of the OPAL program, we’ll be regularly updating our GIS with new data to monitor the health promoting environments,” Dr Jones said.