Growth, Development and Body Composition

Welcome to the Growth, Development and Body Composition research theme, headed by Professor Peter Davies


Habitual diet is an important modifiable factor which influences growth, health and disease. Diet is an important determinant of gut microbiota composition and it is proposed that the modulation in the activity and composition of the gut microbiota is one of the mechanisms by which diet impacts health. BMI has been shown to be associated with gut microbiota composition and obese 7 years olds have been shown to have had significantly different faecal microbiota in infancy.

This study aims to correlate the association and interaction between: habitual diet, gut microbiota composition and activity, and body composition in 1 to 5 years old children. Should a link be found, the next step would be to explore interventions which modulate gut microbiota to improve health.

Research Team:
Ms Paula Brown
Prof Peter SW Davies

Bone strength parameters in Cystic Fibrosis

Low bone mineral density (BMD) remains a frequent observation in individuals with cystic fibrosis (CF). A suboptimal bone mineral accrual in adolescents with CF is recognised, that potentially leads to low levels of bone mineral density (BMD) in adults with CF. However, the evidence is unclear because of the limited understanding of the individual and combined effects of the CF disease and treatment on bone health, and, technical limitations of standard densitometry techniques (DXA) to assess bone health in this population. The main aim of this cross sectional study is to investigate bone strength parameters using state of the art densitometry (pQCT) to present a more comprehensive assessment of the bone health of young individuals with CF compared to healthy controls.

Research Team:
Ms Denise Brookes - Children's Nutrition Research Centre, The University of Queensland
Prof Peter SW Davies - Children's Nutrition Research Centre, The University of Queensland
Dr Rebecca Hill - Children's Nutrition Research Centre, The University of Queensland
Dr Craig Munns - The Children's Hospital at Westmead, NSW
Ms Julie Briody- The Children's Hospital at Westmead, NSW  

Optimising micronutrient status in children with Cerebral Palsy

The natural healing processes of the body are required to be functioning optimally, in trauma or surgery, in order to prevent delays, impediments or complications which result in poor outcomes and prolonged hospitalization. The prolonged disease, stress and trauma associated with surgery, lead to a depletion of nutritional stores in the body, which is accelerated by a hypermetabolic state.

A study is currently being conducted looking at vitamin and mineral status in children with cerebral palsy and comparing this to typically developing children aged 4-12 years. Three baseline measures 6 weeks apart are being collected from all groups, with the third measure being at the time of surgery in the surgical group. These children will undergo a further 2 measures post-surgery, also 6 weeks apart, in order to compare this data with not only there own pre-measure data, but also with all of the other children's baseline measures. Due to the potential presence of an acute phase response, a variety of functional and other novel biochemical markers are being utilised as measures of each individual vitamin or mineral.
Collaborations have also been formed with the Oxidative Stress Laboratory which will perform antioxidant, inflammation and oxidative stress measures, as well as with the Trace Element Laboratory which will be analysing 3-day food composites for trace element, mineral and protein content.
This study will provide valuable information relating to a wide range of nutritional parameters, not normally accessible to families. The necessity of adequate vitamin and mineral status for optimum physiological function and the prevention of disease cannot be overstated and is often underestimated. All results will be made available to clinicians and families at the conclusion of the study, should they desire.

Research Team:
Ms Niikee Schoendorfer - Children's Nutrition Research Centre, The University of Queensland
Prof Peter SW Davies - Children's Nutrition Research Centre, The University of Queensland
A/Prof Roslyn Boyd - Cerebral Palsy and Rehabilitation Research, The University of Queensland
A/Prof Luis Vitetta -  Centre for Integrative Clinical and Molecular MedicineThe University of Queensland

The impact of active-input electronic games on children's motor skill development, energy expenditure and physical activity

This research aims to determine if new active electronic game interfaces can enhance children's gross motor development and increase their energy expenditure and physical activity.  A randomised and controlled trial will examine the impact of the sedentary and active electronic games in the children's homes.  We expect that active-input games will result in better gross motor skills and more overall energy expenditure and physical activity.  Children with poor movement coordination are expected to show the biggest gains as they can practise movements in a fun, private place.

Research team:
Prof Peter SW Davies - Children's Nutrition Research Centre, The University of Queensland
Prof Leon Straker - Curtin University of Technology, WA

Genetic and environmental determinants related to recurrent, low grade disease in Aboriginal Children

This project seeks to identify genetic and environmental risk factors associated with the incidence of a variety of recurrent, low grade disease entities in Aboriginal children and to subsequently suggest treatment and control strategies based on these findings.

From the many government reports that have been commissioned there appears to be a particular prevalence of recurrent low grade disease in Aboriginal children. These include upper respiratory tract infections, abnormalities of growth, skin conditions, dental disease, and bowel disorders.
The aim this project is to investigate such recurrent diseases with a view to identifying common environmental, biochemical, nutritional, genetic or interaction effects that predispose to all or a significant proportion of these conditions. Many recurrent conditions may be related to underlying microbial growth, common nutritional deficiencies, dietary intolerance, a compromised immune system, pathogenic load, or genetic predisposition.

Since 2007, there has been a concerted effort in Australia to "Close the Gap".  While "the gap" specifically relates to the difference in life expectancy, and this is to a large extent a consequence of chronic diseases of adulthood and perinatal conditions, "the gap" also might include the difference in ability to reach potential.  Recurrent disease in aboriginal children is a major factor in falling behind at school as well as directly affecting attainment of developmental milestones.

To identify aboriginal children under the age of 14 with recurrent low grade disease, to identify factors predisposing to these diseases, and to devise actions to prevent or limit the occurrence of recurrent diseases in this population.

We expect at least one hundred Aboriginal children under the age of 14 years will be identified, through clinical records from our sampling area in South East Queensland, as presenting with common recurrent childhood diseases.  Demographic and clinical data from this group and that from an age matched cohort not diagnosed with recurrent disease will be analysed at Children's Nutrition Research Centre (CNRC).  Depending on the outcomes of the initial analyses more specific survey questions relating to nutrition, exercise, and lifestyle, will be applied to a subset of the primary groups.  Similarly, a set of potentially important clinical tests will be performed and samples such as DNA taken

If an underlying cause for these common recurrent conditions can be identified, an effective strategy can be implemented to decrease their prevalence.  This will lead to not only better general health but also greater self esteem, improved learning, and fewer chronic disease problems in adulthood.

Research Team:
Ms Nita Sharp - PhD Candidate, Children's Nutrition Research Centre, The University of Queensland
Dr Ian Hughes - Mater Medical Research Institute and Children's Nutrition Research Centre, The University of Queensland
Prof. Cindy Shannon - The University of Queensland Centre for Indigenous Health.
Dr Gary Deed - President of the Australasian College of Nutritional and Environmental Medicine.
Prof. Lesley Barclay - The Sydney Medical School, University of Sydney
Ms Niikee Schoendorfer - PhD Candidate, Children's Nutrition Research Centre, The University of Queensland

An investigation of the Relationship between Body Composition, Adipokines and Asthma in Children and Adolescents: Asthma Fit Study

In recent years, we have been witnessed an increase in the incidence of childhood obesity, both in Australia and worldwide. This increase was in pararell with an increase in the number of children with asthma. Therefore, it has raised the question: Are these two common conditions related?

As evidenced by numerous studies on large populations, yes; there is an association between obesity and asthma in children and obesity is a risk factor for asthma. However the linking mechanism  is not clear yet.
Recently, the role played by fat tissue in the development of heart disease, insulin resistance and diabetes has been well understood. Fat tissue is no longer considered only a storage organ. It is an active tissue that produces hormones and cytokines. Products of adipose tissue, known as adipokines, including leptin, resistin, TNF-α, PAI-1 and IL-6, have been found to induce an inflammatory state in the overweight and obese, both systemically and regionally.

The aim of this study is therefore to examine the role of adipokines and insulin resistance in children with persistent asthma, compared with healthy subjects.

Understanding the linking mechanism between obesity, insulin resistance and asthma may significantly enhance current treatment options in the management of asthma, and also possibly lead to the development of new therapies. 
Research team:
Dr Mandana Arshi - Children's Nutrition Research Centre, The University of Queensland
Dr John Cardinal - Department of Chemical Pathology, Endocrinology Section, Queensland Health Pathology Services, Royal Brisbane Hospital
Dr Bahram Adeli Kodehi -  Children's Nutrition Research Centre, The University of Queensland
A/Prof Claire Wainwright, RCH Foundation Respiratory Specialist, Head of CF Services, Queensland Children's Respiratory Centre, Royal Children's Hospital,  Queensland
Dr Rebecca J Hill - Children's Nutrition Research Centre, The University of Queensland
Prof Peter SW Davies - Children's Nutrition Research Centre, The University of Queensland

Dietary Interventions in Obese Young People - The 'Eat Smart' Study

Dietary change is one of the cornerstones of obesity treatment yet there is a lack of good evidence for optimal dietary approaches particularly in children and young people.

Eat Smart is a novel research study in which 2 dietary approaches to treat childhood obesity are being tested. The study is a collaboration between Professor Jenny Batch, Consultant Endocrinologist at the Royal Children's Hospital and the Children's Nutrition Research Centre at The University of Queensland, and commenced in January 2007. Families initially undertake a short course in life skills called FRIENDS for Life, which focuses on emotional resilience building and self esteem. Families are then randomly allocated to one of three groups:

A reduced carbohydrate eating plan
A structured low fat meal plan system
A wait listed control group
For those families allocated to one of the dietary groups, this will include 6 months of support with 10 appointments at the Royal Children's Hospital over that time. For families allocated to the control group, this will involve a 12 week monitoring (waiting) period after which they may undertake the dietary program of their choice. Eat Smart is supported by an experienced weight management dietitians and includes measures of energy expenditure, body composition and biochemical markers of inflammation.

For more information on this research please contact Ms Kim Cojean on 3365 5476 or

Research Team
Prof Helen Truby - Monash University. Melbourne
Prof Jennifer Batch - Royal Children's Hospital, Brisbane
Ms Kimberley Cojean - The Children's Nutrition Research Centre, The University of Queensland
Dr Diane Jensen - The Children's Nutrition Research Centre, The University of Queensland
Ms Sarah Elliott- The Children's Nutrition Research Centre, The University of Queensland

Validation of reduced dose isotopes in the measurement of total energy expenditure using doubly labelled water

Information on energy expenditure is useful in many clinical and research settings. In some disease states, children may have altered energy requirements and reliable measures of energy expenditure enable better nutritional management of these patients. In a research setting, measurements of energy expenditure can provide useful data on the energy used in physical activity of children, an area of increasing public health concern. This research aims to validate the use of a reduced isotope dose of doubly labelled water in children, and provide an accurate, cost effective way of measuring total energy expenditure.
If using a reduced isotope dose in the DLW technique proves to be reliable and valid it would mean that energy expenditure could be measured in a wider range of clinical and research settings. This would have many potential applications, for example: children with different clinical conditions may require different dietary treatments based on their energy requirements. Treatment strategies could be improved if an accurate and cost effect way of measuring energy expenditure is more widely available. It would also enable dietitians to determine energy requirements, and validate reported food intakes more precisely. It would generate accurate control (normative) data, for use in future comparison studies utilising the doubly labelled water technique in a specific clinical population. 

Research Team:
Ms Sarah Elliott - Children's Nutrition Research Centre, The University of Queensland
Prof Peter SW Davies - Children's Nutrition Research Centre, The University of Queensland
Prof Helen Truby - Monash University, Melbourne

Studies of Energy Metabolism in children with Prader-Willi Syndrome

Prader-Willi Syndrome (PWS) affects between 1 in 15,000 and 1 in 20,000 live births, and can lead to morbid obesity.  This study will evaluate aspects of energy metabolism and energy balance in children with this genetic syndrome.  The influence of growth hormone therapy will also be evaluated.

Research Team:
Prof Peter SW Davies - Children's Nutrition Research Centre, The University of Queensland
Dr Ohn Nyunt - Mater Children's Hospital, Brisbane
Dr Mark Harris - Mater Children's Hospital, Brisbane
Prof Andrew Cottrell - Mater Children's Hospital, Brisbane


This study is designed as a follow-on study to the Eat Smart Study.  We aim to show that, medical therapy using metformin, in addition to lifestyle modification;  will enhance the success weight loss maintenance in overweight/obese adolescents.  This trial is a randomised controlled trial of metformin vs placebo for 6 months after completion of the 'Eat Smart' program.  During this study, we will investigate appetite and appetite related hormones in young people:  both within and above the healthy weight range.  We will also investigate the effect of metformin on appetite in overweight/obese adolescents.

For further information, please contact Dr Diane Jensen on 0412 027 454 or

Research Team
Dr Diane Jensen - PhD student, Children's Nutrition Research Centre (CNRC), School of Medicine, The University of Queensland, Queensland Children's Medical Research Institute (QCMRI), Royal Children's Hospital, Brisbane
Prof Jennifer Batch - QCMRI, Royal Children's Hospital, Brisbane
Prof Helen Truby - Monash University, Melbourne
A/Prof Neil King - Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation (IHBI), Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane
Ms Natalie Webster - CNRC, Royal Children's Hospital, Brisbane
Dr John Cardinal - Queensland Health Pathology Services (QHPS), Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital, Brisbane.