In this section
Note: this is a past research project that is now complete.
The Staying Fit Project is a research initiative of the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute. It is conducted within the Population Health Studies of Adolescents research group and based at The Centre for Adolescent Health. The Centre for Adolescent Health is Australia's leader in responding to the health problems that affect young people.
We want to find a fun and interactive way to help overweight adolescents learn about healthy eating and physical activity. Currently in Australia around 30% of all 12 to 17 year olds are overweight and as you might know clinical services are limited in the help that they can provide for many young people. We recognise that adolescence is a time when young people are beginning to make independent decisions about their lives and we'd like to help them make good choices about what they eat and what physical activity they do.
Americans have designed an interactive online program called Staying Fit to help adolescents learn about healthy eating and physical activity and have found that it is successful. We wanted to know if it would work in Australia any better than the information that is already available. So we are asking overweight young people aged 12 to 17 to help us test these two ways of providing health information. Almost 200 overweight adolescents agreed to take part in the study and they were randomly assigned to either the Staying Fit group or the Usual Care group.
Those in the Staying Fit group were given access to a fun and interactive online adolescent weight management program designed to help overweight young people learn about healthy eating and physical activity. The program went for 12 weeks, and each week they were able to do a new online session that took less than one hour to complete. The Staying Fit program also includes quizzes, weekly feedback and access to an online discussion board, and each Staying Fit participants was provided with a pedometer and a walking program. Parents of those in the Staying Fit group were sent regular newsletters that gave then tips on how they could support their child.
The adolescents randomised to the Usual Care group received information designed for young people about healthy eating, physical activity, stress and coping with eating disorders. They also received a list of helpful websites to visit.
After 6 months we had promising results as the
young people in the Staying Fit group had lost more weight than those in the
usual care group. It was important to
see if the difference could be maintained over a longer period, but this meant
we needed to keep following the study participants. The funds to allow us to follow the young
people for another 6 months were generously provided through a grant from the
RCH Foundation (Handbury fund). We found
that the Staying Fit group continued to have gradual weight loss between 6 and
12 months after enrolling in the program. Because the Staying Fit program was more helpful in supporting
overweight young people to move towards a healthier weight, at the end of the
study the usual care group was given access to the full Staying Fit program.
We are now preparing publications for scientific
journals and presenting these findings at both National and International
conferences. Our team have submitted an
application to do a much larger study in secondary schools across Victoria that
will determine if the Staying Fit program can help all young people improve
their nutrition and activity choices.