The Australian Health in Preconception, Pregnancy, and Postpartum Early and Mid-career Researcher Collective (HiPPP EMR-C) held their first online showcase for 2023 on the 4th of April. It was attended by over 40 EMR-C members from around Australia and chaired by Dr Briony Hill.
The first part of the showcase was a presentation by Dr Cheryce Harrison, CRE HiPP Senior Research Fellow and Head of Public Health and Implementation research at the Monash Centre for Health Research and Implementation (MCHRI).
Dr Harrison has been working with antenatal health systems to optimise gestational weight and health in reproductive-aged women for over 15 years. Over that time she has seen a significant increase in research activity in this area.
She is currently leading a research project funded by the Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF), titled “Implementing equitable, accessible and effective antenatal healthy lifestyle interventions to optimise maternal health and well-being.”
“We know that young women of reproductive age are a high-risk population for weight gain across preconception, pregnancy and postpartum, which may increase risks for adverse outcomes for themselves and their offspring,” said Dr Harrison.
“Pregnancy in particular is a high-risk window, yet it is also recognised as an opportune time to engage women in healthy lifestyle programs, as they are regularly linked with healthcare systems and are more likely to have increased motivation towards behaviour change to ensure the health of their offspring.
“Research shows that healthy lifestyle interventions, particularly those involving dietary change, effectively prevent excess weight gain and reduce the risk of adverse outcomes for both mother and baby.”
With research evidence consolidated, she strongly advocates for adaptation and implementation into real world settings, which remains a key public health gap.
To address this, Dr Harrison is currently in the second year of her four-year $1.5M MRFF grant, which is exploring how to best implement healthy lifestyle interventions in routine antenatal care.
“In particular I’m focussed on how to best optimise reach, engagement and penetration of healthy lifestyle interventions in health systems whilst ensuring equity and accessibility for all women, including disadvantaged populations and women from diverse backgrounds.”
Her team have worked with different methods of intervention delivery, including face-to-face, individual and group delivery in both public and private healthcare settings, as well as digital health applications.
Of particular note is the OptimalMe digital intervention, which the team developed with Medibank Private and was the first of its kind in the field. This app included ongoing support from a dedicated health coach, and was able to reach women both before and during pregnancy, due to the 12 month waiting period for obstetric care with private health insurance.
“We know that there is a huge digital health market around healthy lifestyle and pregnancy apps, with significant reach and penetration.
“But we also know that many apps readily available to women lack the high quality content, support and connection to health professionals that women need during this time. This presents an opportunity to leverage the promise that digital health presents to develop and scale evidence-based digital health innovations, which is a deliverable of our MRFF grant.”
Dr Harrison’s MRFF grant is informed by extensive community consultation, which involves working with women to ensure relevant, timely and engaging programs that integrate novel techniques.
The second part of the showcase involved a lively panel discussion on the experiences of researchers in submitting MRFF grants. The panel included MRFF grant recipients Dr Cheryce Harrison, Associate Professor Serene Yoong and Dr Mihiri Silva.
“I think the people attending the showcase really valued the chance to hear about writing MRFF grants in the maternal and child wellbeing space from experts themselves,” said Dr Briony Hill, HiPPP EMR-C Chair.
We look forward to the next HiPPP EMR-C showcase, seeing the results of Dr Harrison’s work and more successful MRFF grant applications among HiPPP EMR-C members!