HDR Scholarship – Advancing understanding of eating behaviour phenotypes during childhood to promote healthy eating (Deakin-Aston cotutelle PhD)


Year 1: Deakin, Burwood Campus | Year 2: Aston University, Birmingham UK | Year 3: Deakin, Burwood Campus

Unhealthy diets, including excessive consumption of discretionary and ultra-processed (junk) foods and low intakes of vegetables and whole grains, are globally among the most prevalent health issues affecting children. Low quality diets are associated with higher incidence of several chronic diseases, as well as children’s psychosocial health and wellbeing. Governments and health promotion organisations in Australia and globally have invested in various interventions and policies to address the issues of poor diets and excess weight in childhood, yet they are not as effective as desired. Further understanding of the factors that influence children’s diets is important for developing effective personalised interventions. 

The food environments in which children from countries like Australia and the UK are characterised by an abundance of highly attractive, palatable but unhealthy foods. Some children are more susceptible than others to consuming unhealthy diets in these contexts. That is, although the food environment promotes unhealthy eating, not all children consume unhealthy diets.  

This project will explore children’s eating behaviour phenotypes (subgroups of children with unique eating behaviour patterns) as a way of understanding which children are more likely to consume unhealthy diets and gain excess weight.  While it is known that different eating behaviour phenotypes exist in children, presently we lack understanding of the best ways to characterise eating behaviour phenotypes. We also do not fully understand the types of eating behaviour phenotypes that exist, and underlying reasons explaining eating behaviour phenotypes (e.g., children’s characteristics like temperament, or their experiences with food and feeding). 

This project will generate insights into the different types of eating behaviour phenotypes that exist amongst children and provide data on effective ways for characterising and understanding the phenotypes. The student will be able to draw upon existing data sets from our ongoing child eating projects within IPAN along with an ESRC funded study on the development of eating behaviour across childhood in the UK, as well as collect new data on eating behaviour phenotypes. 

The PhD student will: 

  • Conduct a literature review about the key components of eating behaviour phenotypes and their measurement in childhood.  
  • Use existing cross-sectional/longitudinal data to explore how eating behaviour phenotypes can be characterised, and how these relate to diet and weight outcomes. 
  • Whilst in the UK, use ecological momentary assessment (EMA) data to explore how eating behaviour phenotypes can be understood in daily life. 
  • Contribute to the development of novel ways of understanding children’s eating behaviour phenotypes. 

The student will have the opportunity to work within two world-leading research groups. In Australia, the student will work within Deakin’s Institute for Physical Activity and Nutrition, a research institute committed to improving health and quality of life through nutrition and physical activity research excellence. While in the UK the student will be embedded within the PEACh group at Aston whose research examines biopsychological, affective, psychopharmacological, cognitive, and social influences on eating behaviour and adiposity. 

This project will help us to better understand how to tailor healthy eating interventions to children’s unique eating behaviour profiles. The project will give the PhD student a unique training opportunity, enabling them to launch their research careers with world leading teams, in the UK and Australia, using a wide range of specialist methods. 

The successful student will have: 

  • Honours, Masters or equivalent research training meeting Deakin’s PhD entry requirements 
  • Training in nutrition or dietetics  
  • Interest and basic skills in statistics, mathematics and/or analysis 
  • Good written and interpersonal communication skills 
  • Willingness to travel to the UK for 6-12 months 
  • Initiative, problem-solving and self-management skills 
  • English language proficiency 

Questions to Dr Georgie Russell, Senior Lecturer,  

For full details of this opportunity, visit the Deakin Scholarships page

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