Research focussed on improving disadvantaged children’s nutrition

Almost one million Australian children live in households which struggle to put food on the table every day, the focus of a research project on the lived experience of food insecurity, by QUT’s Professor Danielle Gallegos, the new director of the Woolworths Centre for Children’s Nutrition Research.

Professor Gallegos said the Centre, funded through the Children’s Hospital Foundation by a $5 million donation from Woolworths’ team and customers, had a number of research projects underway focussed on improving the nutrition of children, particularly of those living in disadvantaged communities.

“Poor diet affects the physical, mental and social health of children, particularly those living with poverty,” Professor Gallegos, Nutrition and Dietetics discipline leader from QUT’s School of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences.

“We have just undertaken a small study in paediatric outpatients in two hospitals and found 60 per cent of families are food insecure and of these 16 per cent have reduced the amount of food they are eating.

“We are looking at developing a screening tool to identify at risk families.

“No child in Australia should go hungry but we know nearly one million children live in households which struggle to put food on the table every day.

“We are collaborating with health and welfare agencies and families to investigate the lived experience of those who experience food insecurity and factors that influence pathways into and out of food insecurity.

“With an understanding of the root cause of poor diet, we can develop policy and service solutions.”

Professor Gallegos is also leading research on food in schools, a key setting for nutrition education.

“The project aims to enable schools to integrate their breakfast program and increase nutrition knowledge and food literacy of children, their families and teachers,” she said.

Other research projects are:

Responsive feeding in tough times led by QUT’s Dr Rebecca Byrne.

Parents, dietitians, child health nurses and other health professionals will co-create a program to promote responsive feeding (practices that allow a child to decide how much they eat, rather than pressuring them to eat everything on their plate) which acknowledges the lived experience of food insecurity.

Developing an evidence-based co-design framework and toolkit for children’s nutrition research from bench to community led by Dr Oksana Zelenko, QUT.

The framework will be developed by children, families and communities as equal partners to conceptualise a digital platform to enable the development and use of technology from research design to knowledge translation and communication.

Large-scale identification of maternal biomarkers indicative of infant risk for disease susceptibility led by Associate Professor Severine Navarro, QIMR Berghofer.

The goal of this work is to determine whether immune competence of an infant can be “predicted” using microbiome analysis during pregnancy. It will provide measurable evidence that diet during pregnancy affects children’s health and immune function.

[Anti-inflammatory effect of diet in mental health] led by Associate Professor Severine Navarro, QIMR Berghofer.

This study, which will be conducted in conjunction with Dr Nikhil Thapar from the Queensland Children’s Hospital, will examine the effects of anti-inflammatory diets during pregnancy and early childhood on the gut microbiome, immune function, behaviour and cognition.

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