A public health programme hoping to develop health knowledge and healthy lifestyles among Chinese children for the purpose of promoting healthy nutritional and weight status was officially launched in Guangzhou today.

Devised and led by academics at the University of Birmingham (UK) and in collaboration with the Guangzhou Centre of Disease Prevention and Control, the programme, CHInese pRimary school children PhYsical activity and DietaRy behAviour chanGe InterventiON (CHIRPY DRAGON), aims to engage with children, as well as their parents, grandparents and school teachers to promote a healthier diet and more active lifestyle among the young.

The trial involves over 61,000 children at 43 primary schools across Guangzhou city and also hopes to improve the nutritional quality and taste of school meals, as well as physical activity provision on campus.

The University’s Vice-Chancellor, Professor Sir David Eastwood officially launched the public health programme along with Mr Wang Dong, Vice Mayor of Guangzhou and Mr Matthew Rous, British Consul-General in Guangzhou. The opening ceremony took place at Jiu Bu Qian Primary School, Yuexiu District, Guangzhou and invited guests were treated to a dance performance by schoolchildren inspired by CHIRPY DRAGON.

Professor Sir David Eastwood, Vice-Chancellor, University of Birmingham said:

‘The University of Birmingham is at the forefront of world class research to help promote the benefits of healthy living and we continue to work with our partners in China to encourage active lifestyles underpinned by a balanced and varied diet.’

‘It is a great privilege to be back in China to attend the official launch of CHIRPY DRAGON. Today marks the start of the trial in Guangdong province. The programme has come about following several years of dedicated research and thorough development by academics in Birmingham and we look forward to seeing the first results.’

Mr Matthew Rous, British Consul-General in Guangzhou said:

‘I am delighted that this innovative programme will enable Chinese children and their families to share in the UK’s experience of tackling inactivity and related poor health in young people. These first world problems need first rate solutions. Together, the UK and south China can be stronger in tackling the issues. Good luck, CHIRPY DRAGON!’

CHIRPY DRAGON is a multi-component intervention programme. Among other elements, the programme is designed to engage with Chinese grandparents, who are increasingly the main caretakers of children in three-generation families and have a greater say in youngster’s eating behaviours and physical activity. University of Birmingham research has previously highlighted that Chinese children who are mainly cared for by their grandparents are more than twice as likely to suffer from over-nutrition, compared with those who are mainly looked after by their parents or other adults. Therefore, through quizzes, interactive learning activities and family-wide behavioural challenges, University of Birmingham academics are hoping that they can improve perceptions and childcare behaviour among Chinese grandparents.

CHRIPY DRAGON project officers will further encourage parents to engage in more physical activity with children at home and support school teachers to better implement the national requirement for one hour of exercise per day at school. CHIRPY DRAGON is endorsed by the Education Bureau and Bureau of Health for the city of Guangzhou.

Dr Bai Li, Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Public Health, Epidemiology and Biostatistics at the University of Birmingham is currently working in China, training up the local officers who will deliver the programme. CHIRPY DRAGON has its origins in Dr Li’s PhD research, which developed culturally relevant intervention activities and implementation strategies to promote child health in China. She said:

‘CHIRPY DRAGON is a truly ground-breaking project, not least for the families that may benefit, but also for the example it sets for future higher education institutions to work together with Chinese governmental bodies and funding partners. Taking things forward, we would love to see the developed programme being rolled out to benefit more Chinese people.

‘I have been researching behavioural science and child health throughout my academic career and it is really inspiring to see this work now put in to action, improving the wellbeing of children and their families in China. We also hope the findings will be relevant to other emerging economies and countries experiencing similar problems.’

The programme has been made possible thanks to a £500,000 (nearly ¥5 million) donation from a Chinese charitable organisation. It marks one of the first instances of a Chinese organisation funding resources abroad to be then invested back in to China, with academic knowledge and support in the UK reinforced by locally recruited health promotion officers.

The University of Birmingham has a strong relationship with the city of Guangzhou, being home to the University of Birmingham Guangzhou Centre – a unique facility established in co-ordination with the Guangzhou municipality to facilitate joint research and education initiatives in Guangzhou and the wider region. The Centre was opened after the establishment of a Collaboration Framework Agreement between the University and Guangzhou Municipal Government in 2011, which covers co-operation in areas of research, education and technology transfer. It is a pioneering partnership between a leading British university and a municipal government in China, representing Birmingham’s most significant engagement with China to date.

The Vice-Chancellor of the University of Birmingham is currently visiting China as part of a delegation with other senior academics from the institution. As well as overseeing the launch of CHIRPY DRAGON, Professor Sir David Eastwood has signed a collaborative agreement this week with China Southern Grid (CSG). This marks the first strategic partnership between the Chinese power network operator and a UK institution. Following the signing, a senior delegation from CSG led by Vice President Wang Jiuling will visit Birmingham later this month to discuss the detailed collaboration plan.

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