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Curtin program empowers community to fight obesity

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An innovative Curtin University of Technology professor has developed a peer support program to help middle-aged men fight obesity.

The Waist Disposal Challenge (WDC) — Australia’s only community-based program targeting middle-aged men — has helped participants lose weight  and in turn reduced their risk of developing chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease.

Professor Samar Aoun, of Curtin’s Faculty of Health Sciences, said the program had proved extremely successful.

“We successfully trialled the WDC with about 750 men from 23 Rotary Clubs across WA,” she said.

“Most clubs had 50 per cent or more of their members lose weight and reduce their body mass index (BMI).

“It was also pleasing to see that at three clubs 70 per cent of their members lost weight.”

Professor Aoun said there were three key aspects of program that helped with weight loss.

“All participants were advised on nutrition, exercise and other healthy lifestyle habits through educational presentations at club meetings,” she said.

“Clubs also competed against each other to see which had the largest reduction in BMI to win the Waist Disposal Trophy.

“This ongoing competition was recorded on a leader board which helped spur on participants.

“Two volunteers from each club, called ‘champions,’ were also used to encourage their peers to adopt a healthier lifestyle and take charge of the competition.

“Lifestyle coaching by telephone was another part of the program that proved crucial to its success.”

A Federal Government research grant has now helped to expand the program to 51 additional clubs across WA involving about 1,500 members, with benefits of the program flowing on to members’ partners, families and work associates as well.

Professor Aoun said the study showed the power of social networks in motivating change.

“The role and influence of champions as lay leaders in the program was also particularly effective,” she said.

In the expanded study, one of the main goals is to train champions to have increased ownership of the program.

“We are now training champions to be able to implement the WDC in their own clubs without health professionals having to deliver the education component,” Professor Aoun said.

“By training the champions this will decrease reliance on health professionals and reduce the burden on the health system as more and more people live with chronic diseases and live longer.

“To date there are already 93 Rotary champions from 51 WA clubs participating in the training program.

“We want to empower communities so that they can lead the fight against obesity.”

A number of organisations have been supportive of the earlier stages of this program including Australian Rotary Health, Edith Cowan University, Telstra, Rotary Clubs of Melville and South Bunbury, WA Country Health Services, Glaxo Smith Kline and NovoNordisk.

Professor Aoun is currently seeking funding to expand the WDC program to a national level.

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