Telehealth trial connecting rural kids to better nutrition

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Around a quarter of Australian children are overweight or obese, making it a priority health issue, yet only three children's hospitals in NSW offer specialist weight-management services. Regional families not only face waiting lists but the additional barrier of travel.

A Community Grant is helping Hunter Medical Research Institute develop a nutrition project that will use telehealth technology to bring a dietitian "virtually" into the homes of rural families who need more support to improve eating habits and achieve a healthy weight. 

Nutrition Connect bridges an identified gap in rural health services by helping to improve access for those in more isolated areas to health professionals. 

University of Newcastle researchers will deliver the program in the New England region, including Tamworth, Armidale, Inverell and Gunnedah.

The telehealth program will focus on children aged 5 to 11, for whom few specific programs are available and will comprise two intervention groups and a control arm. Resources include two individual telehealth consultations by a dietitian via computer or iPad, access to a purpose-built interactive website, and a monitored Facebook support group where identities remain anonymous. One group will receive additional SMS messaging to support the health promotion.

Connecting rural families with dietitians will not only help to improve children's dietary intakes and stabilise their weight, but also lower the burden on families and the healthcare system by reducing the number of families travelling to major metropolitan areas for specialist help.

The service allows families to stay in the comfort of their home and have one-to-one contact, which is hoped will mean they stay making changes straight away while they're motivated.

The trial is initially targeting 50 families, with recruitment through the Upper Hunter/ New England region. If effective, the model will be expanded to other regions. 

Click here for more information on our partnership with HMRI.