Funding gives pulse to research aiming to improve region’s heart health

Each year in the Hunter New England region more than 900 people experience their first heart attack, placing the region within NSW’s highest cardiovascular disease mortality band.

In an effort to reduce the region’s risk of heart disease, researchers from the University of Newcastle, Hunter Medical Research Institute (HMRI) and Hunter New England (HNE) Health have been awarded a Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) grant of more than $1 million.

The three-year project, led by University of Newcastle researcher, Professor Clare Collins, will explore the cost-effectiveness of Medical Nutrition Therapy delivery in rural and regional primary healthcare. This will be done in partnership with the primary health network and University of Newcastle’s Department of Rural Health.

Medical Nutrition Therapy provided by accredited practising dietitians is used to treat specific chronic conditions, such as diabetes and heart disease, through individually-tailored nutrition support and counselling.

Professor Collins said this project would improve the way people accessed dietitians by working with GPs and primary care providers to test telehealth models of care to reduce the inequities faced by regional and rural communities.

“If you live in the regional and rural areas of Hunter New England, then you are 20-30% more likely to have heart disease,” said Professor Collins.

“We know that if we could support people at higher risk of heart disease then their risk would drop. But if you live in these areas, the dietitian workforce is 25% smaller per head of population compared to cities.”

The results of the study will contribute to lowering diet-related heart disease risk in the community and help GPs to support their patients to improve nutrition-related health, and help better identify those people who need additional measures such as medication.

Results will also inform policy and practice related to nutrition and heart disease across Australia.

University of Newcastle Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research & Innovation), Professor Janet Nelson, said the funding success will harness the capabilities of the University to improve health outcomes for regional communities.

“Our University is focussed on translating our research into practical benefits for the people in our regions. This project will achieve this by supporting those in our community to live better, healthier lives,” Professor Nelson said.

“I congratulate Professor Collins and her research team on this great success and I’m excited to see the impact of this research in reducing the health disparity of regional and rural people,” Professor Nelson said.

HMRI Institute Director Professor Tom Walley highlighted the importance of this important preventative health research. “Improving health outcomes for complex and chronic diseases, particularly for people in rural and regional areas, is an urgent priority. With this funding, the team will now be able to work to deliver support directly to those who need it, through telehealth and novel technologies.”

The research team comprises:

  • Professor Clare Collins
  • Professor John Attia
  • Professor Jennifer May
  • Professor Andrew Boyle
  • Mr John Baillie
  • Dr Shanthi Ramanathan
  • Dr Tracy Schumacher
  • Dr Megan Rollo
  • Professor Christine Jorm

The Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) – Primary Health Care Research Initiative aims to support an increase in Australia’s evidence base in primary health care through research to improve service delivery and patient outcomes.

The MRFF funding builds on Professor Collins’ commitment to improving the world’s food and nutrition related health, using smart technologies.

* HMRI is a partnership between the University of Newcastle, Hunter New England Health and the community.

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