A new study aims to make young rural women more aware of the effect weight gain can have on their health.
Dr Cate Lombard of the Monash University Women’s Public Health Research Group is leading the study, which will focus on preventing weight gain rather than treating obesity. It will increase women’s ability to recognise barriers to healthy lifestyles.
About 60 per cent of Australian women are overweight and women in their 20s and 30s are gaining weight faster than other age groups.
“They are often unaware that their yearly weight gain is having a major impact on their health. Young women living in rural communities may be at an even higher risk,” Dr Lombard said.
“Preventing weight gain is now considered by governments to be a priority for the whole population. The focus on prevention for women should start in teenage years and continue through pregnancy, motherhood and menopause, which are known to be high-risk times for weight gain.”
The research is targeting 900 women aged between 18 and 50 living in 42 small rural communities across Victoria. The focus is on women as changes to their lifestyle are more likely to have an impact on their families.
The program, called HeLP-her, has been shown to prevent weight gain in women through a large randomised controlled trial in Melbourne. It has also been shown to be successful in pregnant women.
“Women tend to be in control of what food is in the house, so they can influence what their partners and children eat and how much activity their children do,” Dr Lombard said.
All participants attend a healthy lifestyle information session held locally. Some will receive additional support and after two years all will report on their progress.
“We have not asked them to follow a strict diet or exercise regime as we want them to decide for themselves what is possible for them to change at this time in their lives,” Dr Lombard said.
“Women don’t want to feel pressured to lose weight. In this program they decide their own individual needs and we support them.”
The ultimate aim of the research is to develop a low-cost program that helps women avoid putting on weight.
“We know women are interested in preventing weight gain, we know it’s important to their health and we know how it works. Now we need to make sure women have access to programs locally that will help them and their families stay healthy,” Dr Lombard said.
In addition to this large prevention trial the HeLP-her program will be available to communities as part of the Victorian Government’s Prevention Community Model.