Could taking fish oil while pregnant reduce the risk of children born to obese mothers also becoming overweight or could high-intensity interval training at school reduce mental health issues?

Studies to answer those questions will be carried out over the next two years thanks to a research funding collaboration between Cure Kids and Government-funded national science challenge A Better Start.

The organisations this afternoon announced $2.8m for 10 child health projects which focused on obesity, mental health, literacy and autism spectrum disorder.

Other projects funded included exploring how to facilitate well-being and positive behaviour in children with literacy learning difficulties; how ancestral Maori knowledge could be the basis of culturally appropriate interventions to improve the mental health and well-being of tamariki; and understanding some of the complexities of genetic diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder.


A Better Start director Professor Wayne Cutfield, of Auckland University's Liggins Institute, said he hoped the projects would have an impact and create tangible, positive change in the lives of Kiwi children.

Mental health, obesity, literacy and autism spectrum disorders were common, complex problems faced by one in three New Zealand children, he said.

"We're not talking about rare and exotic problems. We're measured by the change the research manages to achieve," Cutfield said. "I believe that some of the findings from these projects will turn out to be headline stories in two to three years."

He said the 10 projects were selected from 60 applications and included both direct interventions and more sophisticated, cutting edge, novel science.

Cure Kids chief executive Frances Benge said a sign of the success of the project would be if it could be translated into policy or a change in educational practice.

"I think every New Zealander who works in the health sector holds a dream close to their heart that every kid deserves a healthy childhood," she said.

She believed the projects could quickly make a material difference to the health and well-being of the country's children.

The details

Nigel Harris, of the Auckland University of Technology, was given $341,583 to study the effects of high intensity physical exertion on 400 school-aged children from eight schools.

Half of the students would continue with their regular physical education while the other half would be subject to a teacher led round of high intensity interval training.

High intensity interval training was characterised by repeated, brief, intense bouts of exercise for 20 to 120 seconds.

Emerging evidence had suggested a link between vigorous physical activity and mental health outcomes while it was thought shorter periods of exercise may be more palatable for teenagers, Harris said.

The primary outcome would be improvements in mental health, measured across a range of parameters at a three-month and 20-week follow up.

Dr Ben Albert, from the University of Auckland, was granted $184,196 to investigate the use of Omega-3 supplementation in pregnancy to assist with halting the intergenerational trend of obesity.

The trial would recruit 160 women, half of whom take fish oil capsules during pregnancy, and for three months while breastfeeding after birth while the rest take placebo tablets for the same period.

The trial was critical to understanding the risks to offspring of pregnant women who were of an unhealthy weight, he said.

"If successful, fish oil is readily available and affordable, meaning scaling this to a population level intervention would be easily expedited."

Other studies
Whanau Pakari: understanding barriers to engagement, participation and retention in obesity intervention for children and adolescents - Yvonne Anderson

MyTeen-Increasing competence and mental health literacy: A mobile-based intervention to support parents of teenagers - Dr Joanna Ting Wai Chu

Facilitating emotional well-being and positive behaviours in children with literacy learning difficulties - Professor John Everatt

See how they grow: Developing and trialling an interactive Child Growth Chart for NZ children - Gayl Humphrey

Genetic diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder in the Minds for Minds and Growing up in New Zealand cohorts - Dr Jessie Jacobsen

Te Taonga o Taku Ngakau: Ancestral Knowledge as a Framework for Wellbeing for Tamariki Maori - Dr Leonie Pihama

Obesity Prevention Using Systems Science in school children and adolescents (OPUSS-schools) - Boyd Swinburn