VicHealth Innovation Research Grants provide an opportunity for research teams to trial an innovative idea, research a new concept or methodology, or to develop better supporting evidence relevant to the theory, policy and practice of health promotion.
The scheme funds researchers to undertake a two-year research project addressing specific research priorities related to the VicHealth Action Agenda for Health Promotion.
A refreshed Innovation Research Grant round opened in November 2014, trialling a new two-stage application process. The grants proved to be highly competitive, with 125 expressions of interest received in stage one.
Thirteen applications progressed to an assessment stage by two external reviewers, informing the final decision of an assessment panel comprising VicHealth and external expertise. The panel selected three successful projects to be funded for two years commencing April 2015. Innovation Research Grants will be offered annually. The next round is due to open in August/September 2015.
Congratulations to our new innovation research projects
Creating supermarket food environments that encourage healthy eating
Dr Adrian Cameron & Dr Gary Sacks, Deakin University
This project will examine the impact of changes to within-store supermarket marketing and promotion strategies on the healthiness of food purchased. These supermarket-based interventions will include a financial evaluation to enable assessment of the impact on the retailer and to ensure that results are highly relevant to other settings. The project builds on strong existing relationships between retail and local government partners and senior researchers from the World Health Organization Collaborating Centre for Obesity Prevention at Deakin University.
Unhealthy diets and excess body weight are the two risk factors contributing most to the burden of disease in Australia. While it is well recognised that unhealthy food environments have been the prevailing driver of population weight gain over the last three decades, interventions to improve the healthiness of food environments have not been widely implemented. A key reason for the lack of public health progress in this area is the primacy of economic rather than health-related drivers in the food system. Accordingly, in making the case for changes to food environments, economic evaluations of the impact of interventions on various stakeholders are desperately needed. Unfortunately, opportunities to rigorously test and establish the effectiveness and economic feasibility of environmental interventions in the real world are rare.
Supermarkets are the location of most food purchases in Australia and therefore a potentially potent intervention site. Sustained change in the supermarket environment is nevertheless unlikely without a clear demonstration that interventions successfully improve the healthiness of consumer purchases and do not adversely impact the profits of the retailer. Within-store marketing techniques are a key driver of purchasing decisions. Interventions targeting them are likely to be scalable and sustainable, however little to no high-quality evidence exists for their effectiveness, with no economic evaluations to demonstrate their feasibility. Retail and local government partners have been working with Deakin University researchers over the past year to design a series of supermarket health promotion interventions to address the evidence gap in this area.
By conducting proof-of-principle trials, we will be able to assess the effect of within-store changes to marketing and promotion on customer purchasing behaviour, and the financial effect on the retailer. This evidence can then be used to help improve the food environment of this and other communities throughout Victoria and elsewhere. By targeting the promotion of both healthy and unhealthy foods, we are addressing the imperative to eat more healthy foods as well as to eat less unhealthy foods. The interventions to be tested were chosen based on them being scalable, sustainable, and feasible for retailers. Supermarket-based research such as this has the potential for population wide impact on eating behaviours.
A mobile phone delivered intervention for reducing alcohol consumption
Dr Megan Lim, Burnet Institute
Risky (binge) drinking by young people is a significant public health issue in Australia; two-thirds (67%)of young Victorians aged 16-29 report drinking at levels that put them at risk of injury from a single drinking occasion. These drinking patterns make a significant contribution to current social, economic, and health problems. Very few behavioural interventions have been proven to be effective in changing alcohol consumption. One exception is brief screening and tailored feedback interventions which encourage people to reflect on their drinking practices.
Almost all Victorians own a mobile phone and among young people, penetration of smartphones (phones with computerised functions and internet connectivity) is almost complete. Mobile phones have proven effective in delivering health promotion interventions. Research has also demonstrated the ability of mobile SMS-delivered health promotion to engage with young people and the impact of these interventions on a range of health behaviours. The current proposal takes a style of alcohol intervention proven to have a significant impact on young people's drinking and moves it into the mobile realm, the realm in which young people operate for most of their daily lives.
This project is highly innovative, but is based on sound evidence. The project will take a strong underpinning in brief interventions, ecological momentary assessment, social marketing theory, health promotion and behaviour change theory, and participatory development into the mobile realm. This combination of novel technology and sound theory means that the intervention is highly likely to be effective in changing alcohol consumption behaviours. The mobile delivery means that the intervention is scalable, sustainable, and cost-effective.