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Annual Symposium 10 April 2024
Looking into the Future: Child Health, Wellbeing and Learning 


Since our Challenge was launched in 2016, we have brought together more than 160 researchers from diverse disciplines to take a holistic approach to addressing health, wellbeing, and learning issues for tamariki. These themes underpinned by Big Data and supported by our He Awa Whiria braided rivers model for integrating knowledge from differing sources, have made progress to help develop research that makes a difference in the lives of tamariki so that they can lead healthy and more successful lives.

A Better Start Director, Professor Wayne Cutfield noted in his speech that the Challenge was a fascinating, new way of doing things nearly a decade ago. “We all wanted to join something that could make a real tangible difference, and that the expectation of this new science venture was impact. It wasn’t science for the sake of high-quality science. It was about science that could make positive change for our tamariki, and that was about positive collective commitment. I’m sure I am not alone in saying that that’s why others joined ABS.”

He continues, “when I talk to people like Ken Ong from our Science Advisory Panel, back when the challenge began, it was a fascinating new way of doing things, having science embedded in community, co-creating. So, It has been fulfilling to have had so many projects over the years embedded with community, for community! And that wasn’t the way research was done before the National Science Challenges began.”

We held our final symposium on the 10th of April, showcasing our latest research findings and impacts, we reflect on the national impact we collectively achieved with whānau, communities, stakeholders, and implementation partners. However, it’s critical to recognise that this work is a continuum and the legacy of each of these projects builds, so we also look to the future beyond the Challenge and the vital continued research efforts that are needed beyond the National Science Challenge to build on the critical work we have done over our time.

We thank Dr Claire Achmad, Chief Children’s Commissioner for giving the Opening Address. Also a sincere thank you for the insights given into the future of research in Aotearoa New Zealand from our guest Professor Sir Ashley Bloomfield, whom we are honoured could join us today.

We also thank our Science Advisory Panel member in particular Professor Ken Ong and Harriet Hiscock, for their for their fascinating keynote addresses, which I encourage you to listen to below. I cannot thank them enough for taking the time to share with us their knowledge and expertise with us.

Special thanks to Patrick Gower and our esteemed panel:  Dr Jin Russell, Professor Michael Witbrock, Isaac Heron, and Professor Helen Moewaka Barnes.

Thanks also to our fantastic guest speaker Dave Letele from BBM Motivation who shared his inspirational story and how he is making a difference in the lives of so many. 


Dr Barry Taylor & Dr Robyn Mildon 2022 A Better Start Symposium

Above: Dr Claire Achmad, Chief Children’s Commissioner

Dr Barry Taylor & Dr Robyn Mildon 2022 A Better Start Symposium

Above: Professor Sir Ashley Bloomfield. 

Dr Barry Taylor & Dr Robyn Mildon 2022 A Better Start Symposium

Above: Panel Discussion, Patrick Gower,  Dr Jin Russell, Professor Michael Witbrock,  Isack Heron and Professor Helen Moewaka Barnes.

Professor Ken Ong

Keynote Address Trends in Overweight: Encouragement for Further Action

Professor Ong is the co-leader of the Growth and Development Programme at the MRC Epidemiology Unity, University of Cambridge.

Professor Ken Ong co-leads the Unit’s Early Life Aetiology and Mechanisms of Diabetes and Related Metabolic Disorders programme with Dr John Perry. His research in the Unit and at the Department of Paediatrics, University of Cambridge identified rapid postnatal growth, weight gain and early reproductive timing as determinants of, and also potential targets for the prevention of, childhood obesity, type 2 diabetes and related disorders. His programme studies the mechanisms that underlie these developmental trajectories to disease risk. He works closely with the Unit’s other research programmes in the aetiology of diabetes and related metabolic disorders and in the development and testing of behavioural interventions to prevent childhood obesity.

As well as his research work, Ken is an honorary consultant paediatric endocrinologist and the clinical lead for childhood obesity at the Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Trust and he chairs the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition’s Subgroup on Maternal and Child Nutrition. He obtained his PhD in Paediatrics following research at the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge, using large population-based studies to explore gene-environment interactions in fetal and early childhood growth. Ken has been with the MRC Epidemiology Unit since 2005.

Ken is also the Chair of the Science Advisory Panel for A Better Start National Science Challenge.

       Click here to view presentation: Keynote Harriet Hiscock – NZ Translation talk 2024

Click here to listen to the audio of the keynote presentation


Professor Harriet Hiscock

Keynote Address: Translation Beyond Traditional Methods

Professor Harriet Hiscock is a consultant paediatrician and Fellow of the Australian Academy of Health and Medical Sciences. She is Associate Director, Research at the Centre for Community Child Health, Director of The Royal Children’s Hospital Health Services Research Unit and Group Leader, Health Services at Murdoch Children’s Research Institute.

Professor Hiscock’s research focuses on developing, testing and implementing new approaches to (i) keep children out of hospital; (ii) reduce low-value (wasteful) care; and (iii) integrate health, social and education services to improve health and wellbeing for children, including those living with family adversity.

Harriet completed her medical degree at Monash University (1st class honours) before going on to complete her paediatric training at The Royal Children’s Hospital, Melbourne. During this time, she completed a doctorate at the University of Melbourne entitled: “Reducing infant sleep problems and postnatal depression; a randomised controlled trial” and a Graduate Diploma in Epidemiology and Biostatistics (hons).

Harriet is part of the Scientific Advisory Board for A Better Start National Science Challenge.

Speaker Presentations

VIEW PRESENTATION Strategic Project: Moemoeā – Associate Professor Justine Camp, Professor Rachael Taylor

VIEW PRESENTATION Strategic Project: Whiriwhiria – Professor David Tipene-Leach

VIEW PRESENTATION Strategic Project: Fanau Manuia Programme: Associate Professor Ridvan Firestone

VIEW PRESENTATION Microsimulation Modelling – Associate Professor Barry Milne

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