ADR Wales academics lead cross-national project on impact of built environment on children

The BEACHES project, joint funded by the Medical Research Council (MRC) and the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), is led by a team of academics including ADR Wales Wellbeing academics Dr Richard Fry, Professor Ronan Lyons and Early Years lead Professor Sinead Brophy, together with experts from institutions including Population Data Science and the College of Engineering at Swansea University; the University of Western Australia’s Telethon Kids Institute; Queensland University of Technology and Monash University.

Anonymised data collected from over one million children will be analysed to help understand how built environments can contribute to physical activity and childhood obesity, and how to overcome this challenge to create family-friendly environments for healthy living and the comparisons between the two countries.

The team in Wales will build and link longitudinal GIS (geographic information system) models of the built environment with cohort data and routinely collected electronic health records for children in the UK and Australia.

SAIL Databank will be used for the Wales component of the work with academic expertise led by Prof Gareth Stratton (Physical Activity), Dr Richard Fry (Built Environments) and Dr Lucy Griffiths (Child Health) supported by Co-I’s Dr Amy Mizen, Professor Alan Watkins, Prof Sinead Brophy and Prof Ronan Lyons.

The project will provide findings that will enable policymakers at international, national, regional and local levels to develop prevention programmes and modify the built environment to reduce childhood obesity and non-communicable diseases.

Childhood obesity and physical inactivity are two of the most significant risk factors for the prevention of non-communicable diseases, yet a third are children in Wales and Australia are overweight or obese, and only 20% of UK and Australian children are sufficiently active. This unique study will bring together five large UK and Australian cohort studies to investigate how the built environment influences risk factors such as physical inactivity, sedentary time and unhealthy diet in childhood.

Speaking following the funding award, Dr Richard Fry, ADR Wales Wellbeing lead and BEACHES investigator said: “We are delighted to have been awarded the funding to carry out this pioneering piece of research. This project will bring together several of the most robust collections of anonymised data in the world, which when combined with sophisticated GIS techniques can provide us with a picture of how the environment impacts our children here in Wales and in Australia unlike ever before.”

Professor David Ford, Co-Director of ADR Wales said: “ADR Wales prides itself on how it draws on the expertise of leading academics to inform how policy makers in Wales - and further afield - make decisions. BEACHES is a fantastic example of how the standards and cutting edge research techniques here in Wales can inform work internationally. We are very much looking forward to drawing on this project’s findings and teachings here in Wales.”

Glyn Jones, ADR Wales Co-Director and Chief Statistician for Wales said: “Wales is fast becoming a pillar of good practice and revolutionary techniques in the reuse of administrative data to inform public policy. This is yet another example of how the expertise and techniques cultivated in Wales are recognised internationally and can inform how policy is implemented here and further afield.”

Built Environments And Child Health in WalEs and AuStralia (BEACHES) is a UKRI-NHMRC Built Environment Prevention Research Scheme Project 2020-2023.

Photo: Phillip Roberts

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