Woolworths Centre for Childhood Nutrition Research

Working towards a better understanding of the key issues in childhood nutrition, and how to tackle them.

About the Centre

No child in Australia should go hungry, but almost one million children live in households which struggle to put food on the table every day.

The Woolworths Centre for Childhood Nutrition Research (WCCNR) is a new initiative, funded by the Children’s Hospital Foundation through a donation from Wooworths' staff and customers, to co-create evidence-based research that will enable Queensland children to live healthier lives through better food and nutrition. This initiative is a joint collaboration between QUT and QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute (QIMRB).

We are collaborating with health and welfare agencies and families to investigate the lived experience of those who experience food insecurity and factors that influence pathways into and out of food insecurity.

With an understanding of the root cause of poor diet, we can develop policy and service solutions.

Research projects

Feeding families in tough times

Lead Researcher: Professor Danielle Gallegos

Nearly 1 million children live in Australian households that struggle to put food on the table everyday. These children have poorer development, health and diet quality and often live in poverty. This food insecurity is a symptom of a broader range of social issues and needs to be addressed in order to ensure children can be nurtured and grow to their full potential.

This research is a partnership between academics, health and welfare agencies and families. Using innovative mixed method techniques it will examine: pathways in and out of food insecurity, the lived experience, the factors that influence putting food on the table and finally the co-creation of a portfolio of effective solutions. By understanding the root cause of poor diet quality, policy and service solutions can be developed, welfare agencies re-oriented to empower families and access to healthy food choices promoted. No child in Australia should go hungry.

Food in schools: Healthy kids, healthy futures

Lead Researcher: Professor Danielle Gallegos

Schools are identified as a key setting for the implementation of nutrition programs. However, to date such programs have not used a co-creation methodology to ensure buy-in from teachers, the broader school community, families and children. This research will develop a place-based, co-designed food literacy program focusing on schools in disadvantaged areas.

The program will lead to a methodology that will enable each school to develop a program that will change the school food environment, integrate the school breakfast program and increase the nutrition knowledge and food literacy of children, teachers and families. As a result schools will have more positive food environments and children will increase their consumption of core foods including fruits and vegetables and decrease their consumption of junk foods

Responsive feeding in tough times

Lead Researcher: Dr Rebecca Byrne

Interventions promoting responsive feeding practices amongst parents of infants have been shown to decrease child fussiness and improve fruit and vegetable intake. Responsive practices are those that attend to a young child’s innate hunger and satiety cues, such as allowing a child to decide how much they eat, rather than pressuring them to consume all the food on their plate. However successful trials such in responsive feeding such as NOURISH, have largely been conducted in families with high levels of income and education.

This project will collaborate with parents living with disadvantage in order to describe what the meal-time environment and feeding practices for families experiencing food insecurity. Parents, dietitians, child health nurses and other health professionals will co-create an intervention that promotes the use of responsive practices which acknowledges the lived experience of food insecurity.

Co-design framework for children’s nutrition

Lead Researcher: Dr Oksana Zelenko

This innovative project will develop an evidence-based participatory co-design framework and toolkit for nutrition research from the development of the basic science, to its implementation as interventions and finally in advocating for public policy change. By involving children, families and communities as equal partners in research the outcomes are likely to be more sustainable and have more impact.

This approach will empower individuals and communities as agents of change, acknowledging that the lived experience must be used in conjunction with science to generate change. The framework will conceptualise a digital platform that will enable the development and use of technology from design of the research through to knowledge translation and communication.

Maternal diet and child mental health

Lead Researcher: Associate Professor Severine Navarro

Immune activation and inflammation during pregnancy has been directly implicated in the aetiology of major mental illnesses, such as mood disorders, autism and schizophrenia. Preliminary evidence showed that the cross talk between the microbiome and the immune system plays a major role. We propose to investigate whether a diet with anti-inflammatory properties, such as the Mediterranean diet, implemented during pregnancy and/or in the early stages of life can reduce the onset and severity of mental disorders.

We will use an experimental approach to determine the timing and duration of the diet intervention and the effects on behaviour, cognition, microbiome, and immune function. We will perform a retrospective study using the Queensland Twin Registry to interrogate the nature of maternal diet and the incidence of behavioural and affective disorder onset in their children. This program will provide measurable evidence on how diet modification can benefit mental health.

Maternal diet and infant microbiome

Lead Researcher: Associate Professor Severine Navarro

Maternal diet through pregnancy and lactation have a significant impact on microbial colonisation and immune maturation of the infant. The microbiome via the production of metabolites directly affects immune cell function, and therefore how the immune system responds to allergens or infectious pathogens. We propose to determine whether diet and lifestyle during pregnancy influences infant susceptibility to infectious and/or allergic diseases in the early stages of life.

We will perform a comparative metagenomic analysis on faecal samples collected from mothers and babies recruited from four geographically distinct locations to identify microbiome and metabolite signatures associated with a high incidence of allergy and/or respiratory infections. The goal of this work is to determine whether immune competence of an infant can be “predicted” using microbiome analysis during pregnancy. This program will provide measurable evidence that diet during pregnancy affects children’s health and immune function.

Acknowledgements

The Queensland University of Technology would like to acknowledge and thank the major supporters of this research:
(CHF Application number 50287)

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