New pilot study getting SMART with teachers’ health

Feb 25 2016

Prof Ron Plotnikoff will teach teachers how to lower their diabetes risks

Hunter teachers are the focus of a new pilot health study being conducted by University of Newcastle (UON) physical activity researchers, targeting diabetes and mental health.

Recognising their importance as role models for children, teachers are being enrolled for an 18-month study providing free personal fitness training sessions, psychological counselling and a support package to those diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes or at risk of developing the disease.

It is backed by the Teachers Health Foundation, for whom approximately one-third of annual health insurance expenditure relates to Type 2 diabetes.

“There was very little existing research literature for this group, which was surprising given the importance of their own physical and mental health along with the powerful impact of yielding healthier kids,” Professor Ron Plotnikoff, from the UON’s Priority Research Centre for Physical Activity and Nutrition and HMRI Cardiovascular Research Program, said.

“Teachers are probably more time-poor than the general population, which can lead to stress and burn-out, so our fitness instructor will set them an individual program and our psychologist will talk about motivational techniques to overcome barriers to physical activity.”

With more than 3000 staff working in the Hunter’s teaching system, the research team is hoping to immediately recruit 90 participants for the SMART (Support, Motivation and Physical Activity Research for Teachers’ Health) trial.

It’s open to permanent, casual or temporary teachers employed in pre-, primary and secondary schools, both public and private, across the Hunter.

ligibility factors include being overweight and not meeting physical activity guidelines of 150 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity plus two days of muscle-strengthening exercise per week.

The participants will be randomised into three study groups and all groups will be assessed on physical activity and blood biomarker outcomes, along with anxiety and depression levels.

“The first group will serve as the control, receiving standard care; the second group undertakes five sessions in total with a personal fitness trainer and a psychologist; the final group undertakes the same sessions along with a support package that includes a smartphone app, website, print materials and a support line for additional advice over nine months,” Professor Plotnikoff said.

“Schools won’t be identified in the research because for some teachers there may be a stigma attached to having health risks. We’re hoping that beyond the fact of managing and preventing Type 2 diabetes, physical activity will bring mental health improvements as well.”

Assessments commence in March and the intervention begins in April. Teachers can find out if they’re eligible by completing a questionnaire at or emailing

* Professor Ron Plotnikoff is The University of Newcastle’s Chair in Physical Education and Population Health and co-director of the Priority Research Centre for Physical Activity and Nutrition, researching in conjunction with HMRI’s Cardiovascular Research Program. HMRI is a partnership between the University of Newcastle, Hunter New England Health and the community.