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  • Course description

    Chronic disease, illness and good health in Canberra and Region:

    Comparing clinical intervention with ‘Moving to Green’








    The University of Canberra is pleased to offer doctoral scholarships for parallel three-year projects investigating the prevention and management of chronic disease and illness in Canberra and Region. The doctoral research projects will be nested within a larger study that compares and integrates two physical activity approaches to managing chronic disease: clinician-prescribed increases in physical activity; and Moving to Green. This research takes a primarily quantitative epidemiological approach but may include elements of qualitative design.


    The doctorates will be undertaken at the Centre for Research and Action in Public Health Faculty of Health, The University of Canberra, under the supervision of the Director of the Centre, Professor Rachel Davey, and the Deputy Director (Research), Associate Professor Helen Berry. Other supervisors and/or advisors will be appointed in discussion with the successful applicants. Two or three scholarships will be awarded.


    The successful applicants, who will participate in all aspects of research design and execution, will have medical qualifications or a first class Honours degree or Masters degree in a relevant discipline (for example, epidemiology, medical science, biostatistics, public health or psychology). The doctorates will be undertaken by publication with candidates trained in all facets of the formal reporting of epidemiological research and preparing manuscripts for publication.


    Study design


    The doctoral projects will be formal scientific evaluations of two contrasting interventions aimed at increasing physical activity among people diagnosed as experiencing one or more chronic diseases or illnesses. These diseases could include cardiovascular disease, non-insulin dependent diabetes mellitus or mental illness. Candidates will be able to draw on a general community sample of participants that includes people identified as having chronic health conditions and/or collect their own sample of participants with chronic health conditions (for example, from GP lists). The larger study, in which the doctoral research projects will be nested, will include a range of measures of health, health behaviours, urban design and social determinants of health (particularly social capital). Candidates may focus solely on the community sample or clinical sub-sample, or contrast the circumstances and experiences of healthy participants with those of participants with chronic health conditions.


    The doctoral candidates will, with supervisory guidance, design, execute and report on their research, including managing research ethics processes. Candidates will participate in the selection of concepts to be measured and testing of measures to be used. Doctoral research may focus on one or both of the interventions; candidates are invited to take an innovative and creative approach to the development of their proposed study. Note that the information below is indicative only, intended to assist applicants in the preparation of their proposals.


    The two interventions. Intervention A will be direct, clinician-initiated and prescribed. Following diagnosis with a chronic health concern in a health care setting, patients will be advised to increase their physical activity as part of their care regime. Clinicians will discuss with patients the causes and likely further consequences of failure to manage lifestyle risk factors and explain why they are advised to undertake increased physical activity and how to go about doing so safely and effectively. Increased physical activity could be promoted or assisted in a number of ways, such as by giving patients information sheets, plans or via attending a hospital- or community-based intervention (one-on-one or in a clinical group setting). Doctoral candidates may work with their supervisory team and participating clinicians, in community, primary health care or hospital settings, to develop an agreed approach and protocol for the intervention. Physical activity will be measured before, immediately after and 12-18 months after the intervention.


    Intervention B, the Moving to Green intervention, is a natural experiment approach aimed at indirectly increasing incidental physical activity. In this case, no one-on-one advice or information will be given to individuals regarding increasing their levels of physical activity. The study will involve, instead, identifying people with chronic disease who are planning to move to ‘green’ suburbs. These are suburbs which have been designed to be environmentally-friendly in terms of energy use. Among a number of design features, such suburbs typically encourage walking and cycling by providing pleasant, walkable streets (with places to ‘walk to’, such as parks and shops), bike paths and accessible public transport. Doctoral candidates will work with their supervisory team to plan how participants’ physical activity habits will be measured before, immediately after and 12-18 months after their move.

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