Professor Jim Mann
While New Zealand has distinctive public health problems, it also has a unique opportunity to take a global lead in developing generic skills and research training programmes to address these problems, and to provide insight into potential international solutions. The initial focus of the centre will be on obesity, the leading cause of many chronic diseases in New Zealand and overseas.
The centre has begun to unite multidisciplinary research groupings, including researchers of international standing from five New Zealand universities, to identify needs and provide effective, socially-inclusive and sustainable solutions for evidence-based management and public policies. The centre will use the process of translational research to identify research questions from observational research, and address basic-science mechanisms in the inter-regulation of eating and physical activity. From there, the research will move on to clinical trials (phase-1 translation), controlled family and community interventions and then population-directed policy measures (phase-2 translation) which need to be made sustainable by research into continuous improvement methods (phase-3 translation).
Adapting WHO Guidelines, the centre will nurture new research capacity to integrate (1) promotion of healthful behaviours with (2) evidence-based public-policy approaches to create supportive physical, educational, fiscal and food environments, and (3) improved clinical responses to the existing burden of obesity-related ill-health, recognising that severely affected individuals and subgroups in New Zealand may demand specific management, based on new research.
Many countries have developed excellent physical activity and healthy eating strategies, but these have not necessarily curbed the rise in obesity. High-level multi-sectoral research, reflecting our New Zealand national identity and "can do" attitudes, valuing fitness and the environment, offers real prospects of incisive advances of international importance.