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Meet the researcher: Associate Professor Matt Sabin

Research News
Thursday, July 2, 2015 - 12:15pm
Childhood weight issues, including overweight and obesity, affect more than a million children in Australia. Research, development and education are key in providing early intervention schemes for children that have the potential to fall into the weight trap.

A/Prof Matt Sabin from the Murdoch Children's Research Institute, and Head of Endocrinology and Diabetes at The Royal Children’s Hospital, is at the forefront of the field and is seeking to provide better health outcomes for children who are susceptible to gaining weight, and therefore developing health problems such as type 2 diabetes.

“There were so many unanswered questions about the outcomes for these children that I realised this was a key area of research that hadn’t been properly addressed. A key focus now for modern health is improving the long term health of our children. Outcomes for care of acute childhood conditions are excellent and it’s imperative therefore that we also optimise health prospects over the longer term,” A/Prof Sabin says.

Health education has had limited success when it comes to childhood obesity, and common sense approaches have had low adoption rates. According to A/Prof Sabin, the solution to the epidemic cannot only rely on individuals to change their behaviour; involvement from policy makers and industry is vital to change the environment and make healthy choices easier. He says that we need a better understanding of the physiology of weight gain in childhood – why some children so prone to increases in weight and also resistant to change in weight status when we try to improve their lifestyle?

“Common-sense strategies have almost universally failed to tackle what is otherwise thought of as a relatively straightforward health-related problem,” A/Prof Sabin says. “We are therefore looking at novel factors that may contribute to the development of obesity in childhood such as maternal health and childhood infections, as well as new ways of intervening.”

Contrary to what most people believe, there is no ‘quick fix’ for the global obesity epidemic, but the development of systems for early intervention and the spread of education, are small steps towards lowering the number of cases per year.

“We’ve identified new causes and are also testing novel ways of tackling the problem. Individually, none may have held the single answer to the problem but, together, I think the research papers are beginning to add letters and words to solving the riddle. With the latest research into hormones and its relation to weight gain, it is of great concern that so many Australian’s don’t understand the clever ways in which the body seeks to increase fat stores."

In the future A/Prof Sabin hopes that the development of better preventative strategies and improvements in the clinical care pathways for obese children will lead to a decrease in the obesity epidemic.

“I hope that, together with a wide collaborative group of colleagues, we can soon discover what drives excess weight gain in young children, and identify the best ways for parents to tackle this psychologically and physically challenging problem.”

Read more about A/Prof Sabin's work below