28 January 2021

Professor Jo Salmon from the Institute for Physical Activity and Nutrition (IPAN), Deakin University received the Elizabeth Blackburn Investigator Grant Award at last year’s NHMRC Research Excellence Awards. Her research focuses on how to effectively implement physical activity interventions at scale across the population, particularly in children. Physical inactivity is a leading modifiable risk factor for childhood obesity and other physical and mental health conditions.

Obesity and excessive weight continue to be a significant public health issue both in Australia and globally.

Professor Salmon’s research has shown that, in addition to the promotion of physical activity, reducing sedentary behaviour or sitting time is an important health behaviour target.

It has become increasingly difficult in modern society to accumulate recommended levels of physical activity for health, requiring innovative sustainable strategies.

Nine percent of Australian children born between 2010-13 had obesity at ages 2-5 compared with 4 percent of those born between 1990-93 (AIHW, 2017)

'Compared to usual teaching practice, the program Transform-Us! changes teacher practice through delivery of active pedagogy and creates active classroom and school environments to reduce children’s sitting throughout the day,' Professor Salmon said.

A healthy start to life is critical for laying a strong foundation for lifelong health and wellbeing. To manage health care costs into the future, a long term vision that focuses on primary prevention from a young age is of critical importance.

Photo of Professor Jo Salmon
Photo supplied by Professor Jo Salmon

'This research funding from NHMRC and over the last 12 years will enable the impact of physical activity interventions in children and youth to be maximised, through an increased understanding of implementation approaches and the process of scale-up,' Professor Salmon said.

'With 16 government and non-government partners already involved in this research, this funding will help facilitate and strengthen links between education, health, and the sport and active recreation sectors.'

Over the next five years, this program of research will demonstrate and test the effectiveness of different implementation pathways and approaches ‘at scale’ to increase child and youth physical activity in real world settings.

Professor Salmon’s vision is to build capacity in implementation science among researchers. The ultimate goal is for these intervention programs to be embedded within the primary, secondary and tertiary education systems.

'Winning this award was a genuine surprise and incredible honour that I was thrilled to receive on behalf of my team,' Professor Salmon said.

'As a female scientist, having an Australian role model like Elizabeth Blackburn is incredibly inspiring.'

'Research is a passion—at times, an addiction! But having this sort of acknowledgement for the public health discipline is incredibly important when the benefits and impact of the work can take a long time to come to fruition.'

Professor Salmon said if COVID-19 had taught us anything, it is that investment in public health systems is crucial.

'With outdoor exercise one of the few activities that the population could engage in during lockdown, physical activity was a rare priority for government and the population—one which I hope will be maintained post-COVID.'