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Funding for child obesity prevention in Australia


Correspondence to: Warwick Anderson, NHMRC, GPO Box 1421, Canberra, ACT 2601; e-mail: warwick.anderson@nhmrc.gov.au

In 2008, the National Preventative Health Taskforce identified a need for urgent action to prevent and treat obesity in Australia.1 Data from the 2007 Australian Nutrition and Physical Activity Survey indicated a prevalence of overweight and obesity of 23% in children and adolescents.2 While overweight and obese children need appropriate medical management to prevent the development of complications, prevention of obesity in childhood is the most sensible and cost-effective strategy to reverse the epidemic.

The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) announced that for grants submitted in 2009, ‘Obesity intervention’ would be a research priority. We reviewed the funding allocated to obesity interventions focusing on children from four major funding bodies: the NHMRC, Australian Research Council, Diabetes Australia Research Trust and National Heart Foundation on behalf of the Australasian Child and Adolescent Obesity Research Network (ACAORN), a collaboration of Australia's key child obesity researchers.

In mid-December 2009, we reviewed project titles and descriptions from the websites of the four major funding bodies using the search terms child, adolescent, paediatric, overweight, obesity, healthy weight, physical activity, nutrition, sedentary behaviours and diet. Table 1 summarises the results.

Table 1.  Summary of funding for child obesity prevention in 2010.
Funding sourceFunded in 2010
NHF1 fellowship

Obesity researchers are driven to conduct research to build the evidence base of interventions to prevent and treat child and adolescent overweight and obesity at a time when State and Federal governments are increasingly looking to fund interventions. An inability to rigorously test high quality interventions may lead to investments in inappropriate or ineffective interventions.

So, despite the high prevalence of obesity, the associated health problems, the identification as a national health priority and a funding priority, limited funding was allocated to child obesity research in 2009. The ACAORN prevention group is calling for increased communication between researchers and funding bodies and greater transparency by funding bodies on their criteria for assessing and prioritising grant applications to assist researchers to submit proposals that are more aligned with the aims of the funding bodies. We also call for a review of the funding for obesity interventions to ensure that evidence-based, economically viable interventions that are appropriate for the Australian context are available for adoption by State and Federal governments.