Population Data Science at Swansea University Medical School and the Applied Sport Technology, Exercise and Medicine Research Centre in the College of Engineering are key partners in a new collaborative research project, which will explore the effects of the built environment on child health and obesity.
The BEACHES (Built Environments And Child Health in WalEs and AuStralia) project, joint funded by the UK Research and Innovation’s Medical Research Council (MRC) and Australia’s National Health Medial Research Council (NHMRC), joins up academic expertise from Wales and Australia. The three-year project will combine evidence and analysis from Australia and the United Kingdom to further our understanding of the impacts of built environments on population health, including understanding any differences between the two countries.
Data collected from more than one million children will be analysed to help understand how built environments can contribute to physical activity and childhood obesity, and how to overcome this challenge to create family-friendly environments for healthy living.
The collaboration brings together experts from institutions including Population Data Science and the College of Engineering at Swansea University; as well as Australian institutions, led by Telethon Kids Institute, including The University of Western Australia, Curtin University, Queensland University of Technology and Monash University.
Childhood obesity and physical inactivity are two of the most significant risk factors for the prevention of non-communicable diseases, yet a third of children in Wales and Australia are overweight or obese, and only 20% of UK and Australian children are sufficiently active.
This unique study will bring together five large UK and Australian cohort studies to investigate how the built environment influences risk factors such as physical inactivity, sedentary time and unhealthy diet in childhood.
The built environment includes places and spaces created or modified by people such as buildings, parks and transport systems.
The project will provide evidence-based research findings that will enable policy-makers at international, national, regional and local levels to develop prevention programmes and modify the built environment to reduce childhood obesity and non-communicable diseases.
The Population Data Science team will build and link longitudinal GIS models of the built environment with cohort data and routinely collected electronic health records for children in the UK and Australia. SAIL Databank will be utilised for the Swansea component of the work with academic expertise led by Prof Gareth Stratton (Physical Activity), Dr Richard Fry (Built Environments) and Dr Lucy Griffiths (Child Health) supported by Co-investigators Dr Amy Mizen, Professor Alan Watkins, Prof Sinead Brophy and Prof Ronan Lyons.
Prof Gareth Stratton, Project lead, Swansea University College of Engineering, said:
‘BEACHES is a novel, exciting project that brings together an array of team scientists to use the research strengths in Swansea and Western Australia to develop a deeper understanding of one of the most challenging health issues of our time: The interaction of the built environment on healthy weight and healthy behaviours in the management of childhood obesity. We are particularly excited to continue our strong research partnership with our colleagues in Western Australia and Monash to produce new insights into childhood obesity and non-communicable disease.’
Telethon Kids Associate Professor Hayley Christian, who is leading the Australian aspect of BEACHES, said the project would use unique Australian data from the PLAYCE and ORIGINS cohort studies to provide a stronger understanding of how the built environment influences childhood obesity.
Associate Professor Hayley Christian, The Telethon Kids Institute and The University of Western Australia, added:
“BEACHES is unique in its focus on children and early prevention. The findings will inform planning and practice strategies to prevent the rise in childhood obesity via liveable, family-friendly built environments that promote healthy beginnings.”
Built Environments And Child Health in Wales and Australia (BEACHES) is a UKRI-NHMRC Built Environment Prevention Research Scheme Project 2020-2023.