12:40pm Wednesday 23 October 2019

Weight management study via rugby clubs

University of Auckland researcher Associate Professor Ralph Maddison has just received a $150,000 grant to assess if a weight management and healthy lifestyles programme developed in Scotland for football fans could work in New Zealand.

“In New Zealand 31 per cent of adults are obese and a further 34 per cent are overweight. Obesity in males increased from 17 per cent in 1997 to 30 per cent in 2012/2013, and men have higher rates of obesity than women across most age groups,” says Dr Maddison.

“Unfortunately, men do not typically engage with traditional weight loss programmes; 88 per cent of commercial programme attendees are female,” he say. “The reasons for this may include the perception that dieting and weight management programmes are ‘for women’ and concerns about feeling out of place in female-dominated groups.”

“Professional rugby with its high male, Māori, and Pacific fan base provides an ideal way to deliver weight management programmes,” says Dr Maddison.

This study funded by the Health Research Council NZ will modify and pre-test an effective and cost-effective programme developed in Scotland with professional soccer clubs to determine its acceptability for New Zealand men.

“The rapid increase in New Zealand’s obesity rates in recent years is a serious health concern,” says HRC Chief Executive Dr Kathryn McPherson. “Funding research such as this is vital as obesity and its related complications, including diabetes, high blood pressure, cancers, stroke, and heart disease, potentially pose the greatest public health threat to New Zealand going forward.”

Dr Maddison was one of nine researchers to receive a combined total of more than $1.2 million in Feasibility Study funding in the HRC’s 2015 funding round.


Another Feasibility study grant from the HRC round was awarded to the University of Auckland’s founding Professor in Oncology, Professor Michael Findlay.

Professor Findlay who established Cancer Trials NZ, received $150,000 for a one year study titled, ‘Magnesium for Endocrine Related Cognitive Problems in Breast Cancer’.

His research will investigate whether the side effects of poor memory and concentration often experienced by women receiving treatment such as tamoxifen for breast cancer, could be reversed by taking a magnesium supplement.

“A key treatment for women with breast cancer is the use of drugs that modify the effect of the female hormone oestrogen,” says Professor Findlay. “This treatment has side-effects of poor memory and concentration, which can discourage women from completing the course.”

He says, “Having adequate magnesium in the body is important for normal brain function, and is influenced by an effect of oestrogen on the kidney. The question is whether these side-effects could be reversed by a magnesium supplement.”

The study is designed to test the feasibility of a larger clinical trial which would compare two groups of women on breast cancer hormone treatments, one randomly assigned to having magnesium tablets daily for three months and the other assigned to placebo (‘sugar-pill’) tablets for three months.

Magnesium levels and brain function tests of the two groups would be compared.

“A finding that some women benefit from this simple remedy would have enormous global impact,” says Professor Findlay.


In the HRC’s Emerging Researcher grants, researcher Dr Clare Reynolds from the University’s  Liggins Institute was awarded $141,968 for a three year study into IL-1 signalling and developmental programming of offspring metabolic health.

Dr Reynolds researches the links between obesity, insulin resistance and immune function in the emerging field of immuno-metabolism.

This study will help unravel how early life in the womb adversely affects future disease risk of the child –  critical to reversing the obesity and diabetes epidemic.

“Over the last two decades, maternal obesity has been exposed as a major driving force in the predisposition to chronic adult onset conditions in offspring including cardiovascular disease and metabolic syndrome,” says Dr Reynolds.

“These conditions are strongly associated with a state of persistent low-grade inflammation. IL1R1 is a key signalling mediator which bridges metabolic and inflammatory systems,” she says.

“We hypothesise that IL1R1 deficiency will dampen maternal metabolic stress, decreasing placental dysfunction resulting in improved offspring outcomes, which negates the detrimental metabolic and cardiovascular trajectory of adult offspring subjected to maternal diet-induced programming.”

“By examining traditional developmental programming models within the context of immune deficiency we can further the mechanistic understanding of the early life triggers which predispose individuals to non-communicable disease, potentially revolutionising the way we tackle adult disease,” says Dr Reynolds.

For media enquiries email s.phillips@auckland.ac.nz

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