Flinders Medical Centre Foundation
Flinders Medical Centre Foundation


Friendly Gut Bugs

The Eyes Have It

Mazda Helps Drive Parenting Program To Tackle Childhood Obesity

Driving The Fight Against Childhood Obesity

Friendly Gut Bugs
First Published: Investigator - December 2008

A Flinders Medical Centre endocrinologist says eating foods that encourage ‘friendly gut bugs’ may be a key to preventing Type 1 diabetes.

‘Feeding young children foods rich in inulin and probiotics may actually help protect them against Type 1 diabetes, which is primarily a condition that affects children,’ Professor Nikolai Petrovsky, Director of Endocrinology said.

Insulin-rich foods include onion, garlic, chicory and artichoke. Probiotics can be found in yoghurts and probiotic drinks.

Professor Petrovsky’s comments follow research conducted at the University of Chicago and published in Nature journal which supports the ‘hygiene hypothesis’ that lack of exposure to specific organisms may actually predispose to allergies, asthma, and immune system disorders. In particular, the researchers were able to show that higher levels of ‘good bacteria’ in the gut could lower the incidence of type 1 diabetes.

‘The findings reflect a study I did on identical twins in Denmark during my PhD. We found that in about 40 percent of identical twins, one twin developed Type 1 diabetes while the other did not – which indicates there must be an environmental in addition to a genetic basis for autoimmune diabetes.’

‘It now appears that having good bacteria in the gut, which is an environmental factor because these bacteria are influenced by what you eat, can protect you against Type 1 diabetes even if you are genetically susceptible to it.’

Professor Petrovsky said ‘encouraging the good guys and shutting out the bad guys’ was the best strategy to good intestinal health.

‘That means not overloading children on carbohydrates and sugar which encourages the growth of bad bacteria, and feeding them inulin-rich foods and probiotics to encourage the good guys.’ Professor Petrovsky said the US research could go some way to explaining why the rate of immune diseases such as asthma and diabetes were on the increase in the western world.

‘As a society we’re becoming obsessed with cleanliness, but the research shows that some bacteria should be encouraged – as they can actually help pave the way to good health.’

He said keeping a child on breast milk for the first 6-9 months of their life was best, as breast milk would encourage the growth of the right type of protective bacteria in their gut. ‘And then when they’re weaned, their diet should contain a proportion of fibre and inulin-rich foods suppled by regular ‘top-up’ doses of probiotics from eating naturally-fermented foods such as yoghurt and cheese. So to the adage that ‘we are what we eat’ we need to add the adage ‘our health relies on the bacteria within us’.

The Eyes Have It
First Published: Investigator - December 2008

The visual development of premature babies can be improved by enriching their diets with omega-3 oil, a medical scientist from the Child Nutrition Research Centre at Flinders Medical Centre has found.

Dr Lisa Smithers’ research work has seen her named Young Investigator of the Year for 2008.

More than 140 babies born at less than 33 weeks’ gestation took part in the trial, which involved them receiving milk rich in the omega-3 oil DHA, or the usual levels of DHA in milk.

Mothers who chose to breastfeed their infants ingested tuna oil capsules to increase human milk DHA.

Researchers then tested their visual development using a procedure devised by Lisa. Babies’ brain waves were monitored using sensors as they watched a television monitor with a series of decreasing striped patterns.

The test was carried out at two and four months of age, when babies’ visual systems are in a period of rapid development.

‘We know that DHA, an omega fat, is rich in the retina,’ Lisa said. She said DHA played an important role in converting light signals to electrical signals and then to the brain.

‘During pregnancy the developing baby gets DHA from their mothers, so babies born prematurely can miss out on this important omega fat.’

Lisa said babies in the study were provided with a level of omega fats equivalent to the amount they would have received naturally from their mothers had they been born at term.

‘We found that those babies fed DHA-rich milk had better visual development than those babies who were not,’ Lisa said.

While no differences in vision were found at two months of age, by four months babies who received the omega-3 supplements were able to see a finer pattern than the control group.

‘They were able to able to see a smaller striped pattern than the control group of babies.’

Lisa said she hoped her research findings would be used towards developing clinical guidelines in the future.

Mazda Helps Drive Parenting Program To Tackle Childhood Obesity
First Published: Investigator - October 2008

With childhood obesity rates on the rise, the Flinders Medical Centre Foundation successfully sought a $95,771 grant from the Mazda Foundation to see the Parenting, Eating and Activities for Child Health (PEACHTM) program made more widely available to families with overweight children.

PEACH was designed to help parents of overweight and obese children make healthy lifestyle changes by giving them the tools and support they need to make a long-term difference.

In 2002 the program was tested in one of Australia’s largest trials to determine the best way to treat childhood obesity.

Outcomes from the trial showed that a whole of family approach with parents driving lifestyle changes is the most effective and accepted strategy to help children lose weight.

“PEACH started in response to research that showed the number of overweight children had increased dramatically over the past 20 years,” said Dr Anthea Magarey, Senior Lecturer from the Department of Nutrition and Dietetics at Flinders University.

“Through trialling the program we discovered that it is imperative that community focused research and support occurs earlier rather than later if we are to have any chance of making long-term changes.”

PEACH will be held in a community group setting to teach parents how to deal with childhood obesity through a range of avenues, including how to increase activity and make lifestyle changes and introduce and maintain a healthy diet.

In the future it is expected that PEACH facilitators will also engage GPs, helping them to better identify overweight and obese children and give them a support program to refer families.

With the funds donated by the Mazda Foundation, Dr Magarey and her team have been able to start training more facilitators to expand the program further throughout South Australia.

Training is currently underway and Dr Magarey expects the first PEACH group to be held in early November 2008.

Driving The Fight Against Childhood Obesity
First Published: Investigator - September 2008

A weight management program is helping families battle the bulging waistlines of South Australia’s five to nine year old children.

The PEACH (Parenting, Eating and Activity for Child Health) program provides parents with the tools and support they need to create healthy diet and lifestyle changes. Group sessions with other parents are also offered as part of the program.

The program is led by Dr Anthea Magarey from the Department of Nutrition and Dietetics at Flinders University.

‘In Australia at least 20 percent of boys and girls aged between 2-17 years are obese,’ Anthea said. ‘Many parents see this as ‘puppy fat’, however a large number of children are not losing the excess weight as they grow older.’

‘Our program teaches parents how to learn strategies to introduce and maintain healthy diet and lifestyle changes in the family unit.’

The State Government has provided $200,000 over 2.5 years for the PEACH program. The Mazda Foundation has also donated $95,000 to make the program more widely available to families of overweight children.

The program aims to reach more than 1,000 parents of overweight children. For more information about PEACH call (08) 8204 6303.

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