Systems in communities and child obesity: two new PhD projects

Michelle Morgan
Joe Carrello

The Prevention Centre has offered scholarships to two new PhD candidates. One will study the use of systems in communities, and the other will focus on how to find value for money when addressing childhood obesity.

Ms Michelle Morgan, Healthy Communities Officer in the Tasmanian Department of Health, worked with the Prevention Centre in 2018 to develop the Systems Change Framework, which aims to support individuals and collaborations to engage with complex situations and achieve lasting and meaningful change.

Her PhD project she will test the framework with communities in Tasmania to see whether it is effective as an alternative approach to help tackle the complexity of chronic disease prevention.

Ms Morgan said the broader aim was to support communities to identify priorities and actions to improve health and wellbeing in their local contexts.

“Traditional approaches often respond to the obvious symptoms of a complex situation – but a systems approach aims to get to the underlying causes of poor health within a community, which may not otherwise be identified or acted upon,” she said.

“The Systems Change Framework was designed to make systems more accessible and to package it in a such a way that people can adapt it to what they are already doing. My PhD project will compare this framework to a range of other approaches that communities are using.”

The second new PhD project will be undertaken by Joe Carrello, a former clinician who will be working with Prevention Centre investigator Professor Louise Baur and colleague Professor Alison Hayes to develop a simulation model of obesity from adolescence into adulthood.

The existing EPOCH model was built using data from the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC), which follows two cohorts of children (an infant and a child cohort) up to the age of 15. Mr Carrello will extend the model to take in new data up until the age of 20, then test the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of different interventions in early childhood on BMI over people’s lifetime.

“The EPOCH model allows us to predict where these children will be in future. Its strength is that it’s validated against data from the LSAC study, so we know we can trust it,” Mr Carrello said.

“I’ll be looking at different interventions and model what reductions they will lead to in BMI, how much they will cost, and what the savings will be in direct and indirect healthcare costs. In the end we’ll have information about what is the best intervention or combination of interventions, and at what age to intervene to provide the best value for money for decision makers.”