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Understanding temporal eating patterns

Temporal eating patterns refer to the timing and distribution of food intake, or eating occasions, across the day. Increasing research suggests that the timing of food intake, not just the total amount of nutrients or foods, may be important for health and well-being. Research shows that health and wellbeing are affected when there is a temporary mismatch between our internal biological clock, or circadian rhythms, and our external environment. Modern lifestyle factors such as shift work, inconsistent sleep times (social jet lag), screen use at night and late eating may also contribute to circadian misalignment. This research will examine how eating patterns are associated with these modern lifestyle factors using national and international datasets.

This project would draw on data collected in the Everyday Life study. The Everyday Life Study aims to capture timescales suitable for examining eating patterns within and across days and their interaction with physical activity, sleep and mood. Participants (adults, 18-65 years) complete an online questionnaire, a Smartphone diary for 7 days that incorporates measures of food intake, eating occasion contextual factors (mood, appetite, eating location, presence of others, activities occurring while eating), objective assessments of physical activity and sleep, anthropometry and body composition. The “micro-longitudinal” nature of this data allows examination of the time-lagged effects and examine the bidirectional relationships. We would anticipate using a variety of statistical approaches to examine patterns of behaviours, and potentially also machine learning type approaches. There may also be the opportunity to draw on existing international datasets (multiple cohort studies in the UK) and national datasets (NHANES, AHS).

The specific research questions and research issues of interest for this project may include:

  • Examining the temporal eating patterns in relation to energy and food intakes at eating occasions and diet quality in adults
  • Examining the temporal eating patterns in relation to sleep patterns (sleep timing and duration) and work patterns (work timing and duration)
  • Examining how the temporal patterning of eating and sleep jointly relate to health outcomes
  • Exploring the behavioural and contextual antecedents of unhealthy and healthy food intakes at eating occasions across the day
  • Longitudinal associations of temporal eating patterns with health outcomes such as body composition, cardiovascular disease and mortality

Supervisor

Applications are invited for PhD students to work with Professor Sarah McNaughton and Dr Rebecca Leech from the Food, Nutrition and Health Domain at the Institute for Physical Activity Nutrition, Deakin University, Melbourne, Australia.

Pre-requisites

Applicants will have previous studies in a relevant discipline, such as nutrition, dietetics, epidemiology and public health. 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.

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