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In this month's newsletter
  • Message from the Director
  • Pilot study leads to national school rollout
  • Contestable funding round update
  • Major research announcement - Lifecourse project
  • Latest research news - Healthy Weight and Big Data
  • Meet the Researcher - Tania Cargo
  • Congratulations to Professor Brigid McNeill
  • In the media 
  • Publications 
From the Director 
Kia ora,
This year promises to be an exciting one for A Better Start with many research projects underway. We recently announced Lifecourse, a new project looking at the lifelong impact of chronic diseases on NZ families (see more below), and in July we'll be announcing the successful projects for our $4 million contestable funding round with Cure Kids. Watch this space! 
Our commitment to improving the health and lives of tamariki is stronger than ever and we look forward to sharing some of the great work our science leadership team and researchers are doing into the important areas of healthy weight, successful learning and mental resilience and health. 
Ngā mihi,
Wayne Cutfield, Director
Pilot study leads to national school rollout

An innovative literacy programme, developed with funding from A Better Start National Science Challenge, is being rolled out to the nation's schools.
The programme, known as the Better Start Literacy Approach (BLSA), is part of the Ministry of Education’s major new initiative to support enhanced and more equitable literacy outcomes for all New Zealand children.
BLSA has been developed over several years – led by A Better Start’s deputy director Gail Gillon and Successful Learning theme leader Professor Brigid McNeill – and successfully trialled in schools in Canterbury and Auckland.
“We know that early reading success is a powerful predictor of later reading success, which in turn is associated with stronger educational achievement and improved health and well-being,” says Professor Gillon. “It’s critical, therefore, we help all our tamariki experience early reading and writing success.”

Announcing the Lifecourse project
The lifelong impact of chronic diseases on New Zealand families is at the centre of a major new research programme being led by A Better Start and two other National Science Challenges - Healthier Lives and Ageing Well. 
The three Challenges are collaborating on the $1.5 million research project, aimed at identifying opportunities for improving the health and wellbeing of New Zealanders at every stage of life - from childhood and youth through to adulthood, as well as the later years.
It will have a particular focus on addressing equitable outcomes for Māori and Pacific people.
The two-year research project, titled ‘Lifecourse impact of chronic health conditions; a family and whānau perspective’, will help understand the wider benefits of chronic disease prevention, and determine what makes some New Zealand communities thrive despite living with chronic disease.
 Contestable funding round update
Thank you to everyone who has applied to A Better Start and Cure Kids' $4 million joint funding round for child health research.
A Better Start and Cure Kids called for high quality translational research to improve child and youth wellbeing, specifically in the areas of healthy weight, early learning and mental health and resilience.
Expressions of Interest have now closed, with a raft of applications received from researchers based at 11 institutions around the country. Review panels will now work through the applications, and successful projects will be announced in July. 
Research news
World-first gut bug research 
New Zealand research has shown gut bacteria from healthy, lean people can be used to improve the health of teenagers who are clinically obese. Obese teenagers who swallowed capsules of the gut bacteria of healthy peers reduced a condition called "metabolic syndrome" that can lead to heart attacks, strokes or type 2 diabetes. READ MORE
Manage mental health early
A Better Start's Big Data theme leader Dr Barry Milne has co-led an international study into the impact of mental health disorders on long-term physical health. 
Researchers from the University of Auckland, the University of Michigan and Duke University in the US examined hospital records of close to 2.3 million New Zealanders, all born between 1928 and 1978. They analysed three decades of each person's hospital records, finding that those hospitalised for mental health issues early in life were more likely to experience poor physical health in later life, and were at increased risk of early mortality. 

The study's findings suggest that dealing with mental health disorders early may have implications for improving the health and lifespan of a population and reducing the healthcare costs associated with physical disease. READ MORE
Meet the Researcher
A quick chat with Resilient Teens theme leader Tania Cargo
Can you tell us about your current project, and why it is important?
Our project is called HABITs “Health Advances through Behavioural Intervention Technologies". It is about trying to provide teens/rangatahi and their whānau with ways to support psychological wellbeing/hauora hinengaro through the use of digital interventions (DI’s). DI’s have the advantage of being able to be accessed and used by teens 24/7. So when and where youth want or need to access support.

What stage is your research at?
We are excited to be implementing HABITs into 4 high schools. We have a HABITs ambassador at each school who helps staff and students to be able to use the tools. We can’t wait to see how each school is able to benefit from HABITs and what the evidence says.

What makes you excited about this project?
That more young people will be able to get support, when they want and need it. We know that 75% of young people who want support aren’t able to access it. So being able to have a DI as an option is really helpful.

Why do you love about being involved with A Better Start?
I love the fact that we all want our tamariki, rangatahi and whānau to have the best possible start to life and to maintain and expect that hauora should and can be attainable for all. I love the other amazing researchers I work with throughout New Zealand and overseas and that we all have a similar desire to help make a difference. I also love the MBIE has allowed us to have a longer term approach to delivering impactful and relevant research.

2020 was disruptive and difficult for many. What is your wish for this year?
I wish for us, as Kiwis, to be able to embrace technology and see it as adding value to way we support young people and their whānau.

The best piece of advice you have ever received?
My nana always said “he aha te mea nui… he tāngata, he tāngata, he tāngata”. The most important thing in this world is people. She encouraged us to keep working on relationships and to keep your whānau together.

A great book you have read recently?
Barack Obama’s book “A Promised Land”. Incredibly inspirational.

The five people (alive or not) you would love to meet?
1. I met Dame Whina Cooper once, when I was a lot younger, so would love to chat to her again. 2. Rosa Parks - what she did was inspiring. 3. Barack Obama after having read his book. 4. Michael Jordan - to talk about his work that he is doing now. 5. Melinda Gates - I’m pretty sure she is the brains.

• Each newsletter we'll introduce you to one of our researchers and find out more about them and their work. See more
Brigid McNeill has been promoted to Professor at the University of Canterbury. Professor McNeill is A Better Start's Successful Learning theme leader and an international expert on literacy development in children with childhood apraxia of speech.
Her research also focuses on developing and evaluating methods to better prepare teachers to support children's early literacy development. 
In the media
A Better Start researchers provide expert commentary on the Challenge's
priority research themes, and issues affecting New Zealanders. Below are some highlights. For more Challenge news, visit our
News page. 
Recent publications 
Wild CEK, Rawiri NT, Willing EJ, Hofman PL, Anderson YC. (2020). What affects programme engagement for Māori families? A qualitative study of a family-based, multidisciplinary healthy lifestyle programme for children and adolescents. Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health. In Press, Read paper

Wild CEK, Rawiri NT, Willing EJ, Hofman PL, Anderson YC. (2020). Challenges of healthy lifestyle change for families in Aotearoa/New Zealand. Public Health Nutrition, In Press, Read paper

Wild CEK, Rawiri NT, Willing EJ, Hofman PL, Anderson YC. (2020). Determining barriers and facilitators to engagement for families in a family-based multicomponent healthy lifestyles intervention for children and adolescents: a qualitative study. BMJ Open, 10:e037152. doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2020-037152. Read paper

Gillon G., McNeill B., Denston A., Scott A. and Macfarlane A. (2020) Evidence-Based Class Literacy Instruction for Children with Speech and Language Difficulties. Topics in Language Disorders 40(4): 357-374. Read paper 

Kim HM., McNeill B., Everatt J., Taleni LT., Tautolo ES., Gillon G. and Schluter PJ. (2020) Perceptions of Pacific children's academic performance at age 6 years: A multi-informant agreement study. PLoS ONE 15 Read paper

A full list of A Better Start's publications can be found on our website.
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A Better Start, National Science Challenge · Private Bag 92019 · Auckland Mail Centre · Auckland, Auckland 1142 · New Zealand

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