From Taree to Tassie, telehealth nutrition intervention goes national

Thursday, 7 June 2018


Hunter nutrition researchers are casting a nation-wide net with a tele-dietary intervention designed to help parents who are concerned about their child’s eating habits or weight.

Called Nutrition Connect, and supported by nib foundation and HMRI, the project has previously assisted rural families in the New England region by bringing an accredited dietitian “virtually” into their homes.

Parents complete the nationally recognised Australian Eating Survey then receive feedback and support, based on individual dietary assessment results, via an iPad or computer.

“We’re now opening it up to any family in Australia, so it doesn’t matter whether they live in Taree or Tasmania,” Professor Clare Collins, from the University of Newcastle, says.

“Concerned parents can sign up for Nutrition Connect and participate face-to-face from the convenience of their own home.

“Using a computer or tablet is so much better than simply using a phone because we can navigate people through the accompanying Back-to-Basics website and clarify aspects they have queries on.”

The research team is using Scopia, a telehealth consultation platform employed by Hunter New England Health, which allows them to partner with paediatric dietitians at John Hunter Children’s Hospital.

Co-researcher Associate Professor Tracy Burrows says the main advantage is overcoming the need to travel to the University of Newcastle’s campus for measurements.

“Statistics show that many children do not meet healthy eating guidelines, yet our recruitment has been challenging in the past because of the need for people to travel into our clinical research centre,” she said.

“We’ve had enough families complete the program now to be able to move to the next stage and make it available online without the need to attend any in-person appointments at all. We can gauge what the interest is like from parents after we remove this participation barrier.

“In the future we hope that it could be offered from health services, where families aren’t required to come on campus at all. We can also calibrate parent-reported characteristics for their child compared to our own data.”

The existing Back-to-Basics website has recipes, videos and information tailored for parents and children in a family-friendly way, promoting healthy eating and healthy weight. There’s also a Facebook support group for parents and weekly nutrition text messages

The study currently has vacancies for 50 more Australian families with a child aged 4–11 years. Applicants can register their interest at www.bit.ly/connectnutrition, phone 4921 5514 or b2bfamily@newcastle.edu.au.

* HMRI is a partnership between the University of Newcastle, Hunter New England Health and the community.