"We know that behaviours that are really important for lifelong health and wellbeing – eating well, being active and sleeping patterns – are all established in early childhood. Intervening early and knowing how best to support parents in this crucial phase is essential in raising healthy children."
For the first time, leading researchers will share data from existing trials – including from the first worldwide randomised trials into childhood obesity prevention – to help develop new methods and tools to monitor obesity-related behaviours in young children.
The $2.5 million Centre, which is funded until 2020, will bring together specialists from a variety of disciplines including paediatricians, dietitians, health experts, economists and exercise physiologists, bringing a multidisciplinary approach to the complex childhood obesity problem.
"It's currently very difficult to measure at the population level the kinds of activities young children are engaged in: what they are eating, how much they're exercising, how much screen time they're exposed to and the amount they are sleeping," said Professor Baur.
"This information provides vital clues for policymakers and health practitioners, helping them to devise more effective public interventions on wide-ranging issues related to childhood obesity, from improving babies' sleeping patterns to decreasing the amount of screen time."
Another aim of the research group is to assess the economic impacts of good health and nutrition in early life and the flow-on effects into adulthood.
"Very few obesity preventions in early childhood have been subjected to economic evaluation, and yet information on cost-effectiveness, equity, affordability and sustainability are all vital to decisions about program implementation," said Professor Baur.
"This Centre will make a substantial contribution to ending the burden of childhood obesity in Australia and internationally by addressing these significant knowledge gaps, and will help to translate world-leading research into effective and targeted policy programs to reverse the concerning upward trends in childhood obesity."