Most parents will be familiar with growth charts; however, many don’t realise these charts are not based on Kiwi kids, which means the data may not be as relevant given the unique ethnic and social makeup of our population
An interactive growth chart for babies and young children is being developed in a bid to help tackle childhood obesity in New Zealand.
Research initiative Precision Driven Health has combined with leading child health research funder Cure Kids and the National Science Challenge A Better Start to develop and trial an interactive child growth chart.
At present, 85,000 Kiwi children between the ages of two to14 are considered obese.
Dr Kevin Ross, general manager, Precision Driven Health, says tracking how a child is growing provides vital awareness of nutritional issues and other health problems which are critical in maintaining a healthy weight in children.
Currently, the growth of a child is primarily tracked through a standardised growth chart in the Well Child Tamariki Ora: My Health Book, which is given to parents upon the birth of their child.
Research has shown that a majority of New Zealanders are limited in their ability to easily make use of this information and that there are huge differences in social norms around what a baby or young child’s weight should be.
Consequently, they’re unable to make informed and appropriate health decisions regarding their child’s wellbeing, including their weight.
This tool aims to give parents a more accessible and understandable way of visualising the development of their child as well as what these standard measures mean in terms of health development in those first five years of life.
These first years are important for setting the scene for health and wellbeing in later years and, as such, focusing here is an important step in reducing rates of obesity in our country, says Ross.
“Most parents will be familiar with growth charts; however, many don’t realise these charts are not based on Kiwi kids, which means the data may not be as relevant given the unique ethnic and social makeup of our population,” says Ross.
The study’s principal Investigator, Gayl Humphrey, says that the project aims to help increase health literacy among parents and families, while also providing greater awareness of healthy growth patterns in their children. The ultimate goal of supporting the development of knowledge and skills of parents in the long run will contribute to reducing rates of obesity in children.
“Moving to an electronic and interactive growth chart will eventually help us to understand the New Zealand-specific growth patterns across our diverse population, and be able to personalise the delivery of relevant information direct to parents and families when they need it.”
“Our aim for this project is to leverage the functionality of smartphones to create a tool that is easy for parents and families to use, but also provide vital data for healthcare providers on where knowledge gaps may be so that interventions are able to be tailored,” says Humphrey.
“We aim to enable growth information to be entered in a simple and informative way, highlighting their child’s growth curves and help with interpreting what that means. It will also provide support to parents around strategies and actions, if there is a concern raised about the changes in their child’s development.”
Cure Kids’ CEO Frances Benge, says that the study’s goal of providing accurate information about children’s growth rates, and communicating this to caregivers and health professionals, has the potential to help reduce obesity rates among children.
“Childhood obesity rates have risen dramatically since the late 1970s. Yet health literacy research has found most New Zealanders are limited in their ability to understand basic health information in order to make appropriate health decisions,” says Benge.
“Assisting parents to better engage with monitoring their child’s growth will help them to understand and participate in managing eating, activity, sleeping and related behaviours.”
A Better Start’s director, Professor Wayne Cutfield, says the interactive growth chart fits well with the National Science Challenge’s strategy to intervene as early as possible. “The overwhelming evidence is that investing in child health early delivers the greatest payback for society, and most importantly for children and their families.”
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