South Eastern Sydney Local Health District is looking for young families to join the Time for Healthy Habits study

New study: Healthy habits should start young. Picture: Supplied
New study: Healthy habits should start young. Picture: Supplied

Families with young children in St George and Sutherland Shire are being sought for a new study that aims to build healthy habits and deliver life-long health benefits.

The Time for Healthy Habits study aims to give parents the skills to improve the vital building blocks of their children's health, including sleep, diet and physical activity.

HealthStats NSW figures show about 21 per cent of NSW children aged five to 16 are above a healthy weight while only 24 per cent of children get enough physical activity each day and just 7 per cent of children eat enough vegetables.

St George Hospital's staff specialist paediatrician Dr Chris Elliot said children who were overweight or obese were more likely to be above a healthy weight in adulthood, which was a risk factor for developing chronic diseases, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer.

He said the earlier you made positive changes, the better.

"As a paediatrician and a father myself, I know parents are already working their hardest to give their children the best possible lives," he said.

"The Time for Healthy Habits program can help parents use their valuable time more effectively and hopefully lead their children to be happier and healthier later in life.

"Significant long-term benefits can come from relatively small changes, when they are the right changes, made together as a family, based on good information."

Researchers are seeking parents of children aged two to six years to take part in a 12-week program offered one of three ways - an online program with six modules and a closed Facebook group; a telephone counselling program with trained interviewers/coaches; or a printed program with summary booklet (either print or electronic).

Each version is free and can be completed at home when convenient, with no appointments necessary.

Parents must complete three telephone surveys during the program, which will include measurements of you and your child's height and weight.

University of Wollongong Early Start researcher Dr Megan Hammersley said the program gave parents tips and practical advice about healthy eating, physical activity, screen time and sleep.

"Parents need information that's relevant to them and they need to know how to make changes," Dr Hammersley said.

"It is beneficial to work on children's eating patterns, physical activity, screen time and sleep habits together, rather than to focus on them individually, as it's been shown if you only focus on one of those, it's not as likely to be effective."

She said one of the main goals was to increase the amount of vegetables in children's diets.

"A good approach is to expose children to as many types of vegetables as possible [as] it can take up to 15 times before they give it a taste," she said.

Time for Healthy Habits is funded by NSW Health in partnership with University of Wollongong, University of Newcastle and local health districts, including South Eastern Sydney Local Health District (SESLHD).

Details: click here.