Monday, 19 December 2016

SCS researchers working to improve health outcomes for obese children and older adults

Dr Michelle Blumfield and Dr David Scott
Two School of Clinical Sciences at Monash Health (SCS) researchers have been acknowledged by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NH&MRC) through Career Development and Early Career Fellowships.  

Dr David Scott from the Department of Medicine received a Career Development Fellowship to reduce risk factors for falls and fractures in obese older Australians while Department of Nutrition and Dietetics’ Dr Michelle Blumfield will study the impact of sleep in pregnancy on maternal and child weight-related outcomes.

Dr Scott’s Fellowship, worth $425,000 over four years will address two of Australia’s significant public health issues: our ageing population and obesity epidemic.

“40% of Australia’s older adult population will soon be obese—while this population generally have normal life expectancy, they can develop functional disability at a much younger age than non-obese older adults,” said Dr Scott.

As an exercise scientist, Dr Scott is particularly interested in how exercise can reduce disability, and the increasing number of falls and fractures now occurring in our growing obese older adult population.

“My research to date has demonstrated that low muscle mass and function (sarcopenia) and high levels of fat inside our muscles (IMAT) are important risk factors for falls, osteoporosis and fractures in obese older adults,” said Dr Scott.

“Over the next four years, I will conduct exercise studies targeting improvements in muscle and bone health in older adults with obesity, and investigate strategies to ensure exercise programs are achievable and provide optimal outcomes in this population.”  

By improving physical function and preventing falls and fractures, Dr Scott believes his research can help reduce health costs and improve the quality of life of older adults.

Dr Blumfield’s research is tackling another serious public health problem, childhood obesity.  

“Strong evidence supports the tracking of overweight and obesity from infancy to adult life and reduced sleep is a strong risk factor for obesity in infants, children and adults,” said Dr Blumfield.

Sleep disruption has been linked to increased energy intake, poorer food choices, decreased signals to stop eating and a lowered metabolism.

“In pregnancy, sleep deprivation has been associated with higher rates of caesarean section, preterm birth, risk of gestational diabetes mellitus and postnatal depression, however, no research has examined the relationship between sleep, diet and maternal-child adiposity using reference measures.”

Dr Blumfield has developed a research program to optimise maternal and child weight-related outcomes by improving sleeping practices in pregnancy.

Dr Blumfield’s projects include several ‘world firsts’— the use of reference methods for sleep measurement in pregnancy with longitudinal assessment of maternal-child outcomes, and a randomised controlled trial to test the effect of increased sleep opportunity in pregnancy on prenatal predictors of childhood obesity.

Drs Scott and Blumfield thank their supervisors and collaborators, including Professor Peter Ebeling, Professor Helen Truby, Dr Sean Cain, Professor Euan Wallace and Associate Professor Arul Earnest.

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