Macronutrient intakes in early life and their impact on growth and adiposity development

Obesity risk starts in early life and it tracks through the life course. Infancy and early childhood provide a unique and critical window for obesity prevention. The programming effect of early nutrition in promoting later obesity has been increasingly recognised. Emerging studies have examined the impact of early nutrition on later obesity risk, and high protein intake during infancy has been reported as a pivotal risk factor. However, research on macronutrient intake trends in early childhood is limited. Moreover, the relative contribution of macronutrients (protein, fat, carbohydrate) in early life on growth patterns and adiposity development remains equivocal.

This project will involve secondary data analysis of several Australian, New Zealand and Danish cohorts of young children, which may include the IPAN INFANT study, the New Zealand Toddler Food Study, and the Danish Healthy Start Study.

The specific research questions may include:

  • Examining the trends in macronutrient intakes across infancy and early childhood and their comparison with the nutrient reference values.
  • Describing the major food sources of macronutrient intakes and assessing compliance with the dietary guidelines.
  • Identifying the sociodemographic correlates of macronutrient intakes during infancy and early childhood.
  • Exploring the association between macronutrient intakes in infancy/early childhood and growth patterns and later obesity risk.
  • Modelling the effects of macronutrient substitution (e.g. substitution of protein with carbohydrate or fat) in infancy/early childhood on growth patterns and obesity risk.
  • Within each macronutrient, modelling the effects of subtypes substitution (e.g. animal, dairy, plant proteins) in infancy/early childhood on growth patterns and obesity risk.

The findings from this project will contribute evidence to inform early childhood nutrition guidelines and policy, and early childhood obesity prevention interventions.


Applicants will have previous studies in a relevant discipline, such as nutrition, food science/technology, epidemiology, health, environmental science, or childhood studies. Interested students must be eligible for enrolment in a PhD program at Deakin University and eligible to apply for an Australian Postgraduate Award or equivalent. Applicants must meet Deakin’s PhD entry requirements. Please refer to the entry pathways to higher degrees by research for further information. We will work with suitably qualified applicants to apply for scholarship funding.


Applications are invited for PhD students to work with Dr Miaobing (Jazzmin) ZhengDr Ewa Szymlek-Gay and Professor Karen Campbell at IPAN; and Prof Berit Heitmann from the Parker Instituttet, Copenhagen University Hospital Bispebjerg Frederiksberg.

Back to PhD opportunities