Food, nutrition and health

Developing quality evidence and using it to tackle the diverse range of food and nutrition issues in our community.

Research focus

Unhealthy diets are the leading contributor to the global burden of disease. Nutrition concerns at the population level are diverse, resulting from both under and over-nutrition. Evidence-informed interventions and policies are needed to tackle these diverse issues.

This domain consists of five research groups:

  • Nutrition in first 2000 days of life
  • Nutrients and health
  • Dietary patterns and eating behaviours
  • Healthy and sustainable food systems
  • School food and nutrition.

Research in this domain includes developing and evaluating interventions and translating research into policy and practice.  This domain brings together researchers from the disciplines of nutrition science, dietetics, health promotion, public health, psychology, epidemiology, geography and implementation science.

Researchers have expertise in:

    • Dietary assessment methods
    • Laboratory-based assessment of nutritional status
    • Nutritional epidemiology
    • Food policy
    • Quantitative and qualitative research methods
    • Observational and experimental study designs
    • Clinical trials and use of m-health.

Research projects

Food for all: Improving household food and nutrition security 

Dr Rebecca Lindberg is developing a comprehensive package of policy measures to reduce the number of Australians living without access to affordable nutritious food.

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What factors influence our decisions about what we eat?

Eating is a complex behaviour embedded in social and environmental context. Dr Rebecca Leech is exploring combinations of foods at meals and snacks across the day and identifying connections around food choices at different eating occasions.

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INFANT – early intervention leading the way

More parents will soon have access to a world-leading early intervention program to establish healthy eating and active play habits for first-time parents and their infants.

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An ecological nutrition framework for healthy and sustainable food systems

Diet is recognised as a leading contributor to both the disease burden and unsustainable food systems – but there is a lack of agreement on the best use of evidence for effective and safe policies and practices to tackle these problems.

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Personalised nutrition for young adults

Many things can influence what we eat, including our biology, behaviours and environment. Dr Katherine Livingstone’s research aims to better understand how these influences interact to design more effective healthy eating advice.

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Preventing obesity from early childhood

What role do factors in early life play in determining growth and obesity in later life?

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Research groups

  • Nutrition in first 2000 days of life

    Group members: Associate Professor Rachel Laws, Dr Kristy Bolton, Dr Carley Grimes, Dr Katie Lacy, Dr Penny Love, Dr Alison Spence, Dr Ewa Szymlek-Gay, Dr Paige van der Pligt, Dr Jazzmin Zheng

    The Nutrition in first 2000 days of life group focuses on research to optimise nutrition from preconception to age five years. We work to describe what and how parents and ‘parents to be’ and their children eat, how this influences their health, where they gain their information and support, and how we can most effectively and sustainably work with them to promote healthy eating. 

    Our research aims to understand these issues across low and high resource countries, and countries in transition. Our group has expertise across epidemiology, nutrition and dietetics, health behaviour change interventions, the use of m-health to support behaviour change, implementation science, research translation and intervention scale up.

    This group covers:

    • Understanding the role of over-nutrition and undernutrition in maternal and child health, and the developmental origins of disease
    • Describing the diets and the determinants of dietary intakes in early life to develop strategies for nutrition promotion
    • Monitoring micronutrient inadequacies, their impact on maternal and child health, and developing strategies to optimise micronutrient intakes
    • Improving functional outcomes in children under five years through optimised nutrition
    • Developing and testing interventions related to healthy eating behaviours and healthy weight before, during and after pregnancy
    • Working with families, health practitioners and communities to support parents to achieve the best nutrition for themselves and their infants across a child’s first 2000 days of life and beyond 
    • Translating research into practice to achieve sustained implementation of early years interventions within a range of settings (e.g., health services, local governments, childcare, early childhood education and schools).                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Nutrients and health

    Group leader:Dr Carley Grimes

    Group members: Professor Karen Campbell, Professor Judi Porter, Professor Lyn Riddell, Associate Professor Susan Torres, Dr Kristy Bolton, Dr Alison Booth, Dr Claire Margerison, Dr Sze-Yen Tan, Dr Ewa Szymlek-Gay, Dr Anne Turner, Dr Paige van der Pligt

    The Nutrients and health group focuses on understanding the influence of nutrient intake on growth, metabolism, and physical and mental health outcomes across the lifespan, in order to design effective and sustainable strategies to improve health. Our group has expertise in dietary assessment methods, nutritional biomarkers, nutritional epidemiology, clinical trials and interventions.

    Our research includes the assessment of dietary intake to characterise nutrient intakes and nutritional status of different population groups across the lifespan, as well as exploring determinants of nutrient intake to design and evaluate strategies to improve diets.  Our group also conducts interventions to alter nutrient intakes to assess effects on health outcomes, ranging from laboratory-based clinical trials to community-based interventions. 

    This group covers:

    • Investigating the intake and status of micronutrients across the lifespan, in particular iron, selenium, zinc, iodine, sodium (salt), vitamin D and vitamin A
    • Investigating the effects of macronutrients on human energy intake and expenditure, and their impact on body weight, body composition and metabolic health
    • Monitoring the availability of macronutrients and micronutrients within the food supply and population intakes
    • Exploring the relationship between nutrients and health outcomes such as growth, cognition, mental health, cardiovascular health, obesity and neurological disorders
    • Monitoring salt intakes and developing interventions to help children and adults reduce salt intake to improve future health
    • Designing and evaluating interventions to improve micronutrient intakes and related health outcomes.
  • Dietary patterns and eating behaviours

    Group members: Dr Suzanne Dixon-Suen, Dr Elena George, Dr Rebecca Leech, Dr Rebecca Lindberg, Dr Katherine Livingstone, Dr Penny Love, Dr Catherine Milte, Dr Sze-Yen Tan, Dr Paige van der Pligt

    The Dietary patterns and eating behaviours group focuses on understanding and characterising contemporary diets, their impact on population health and potential determinants. Our research draws on principles of nutritional epidemiology and behavioural epidemiology, using observational and experimental study designs. We consider dietary intake across the continuum from nutrients to foods to eating occasions (e.g. meals and snacks), and dietary patterns, and the interplay between these elements.

    Our group examines population dietary intakes and health relationships with a focus on food-based approaches, such as dietary patterns, as an alternative to focusing on individual food components.  We generate evidence on eating behaviours and their determinants to inform nutrition interventions and strategies to promote healthy and sustainable dietary patterns.

    Our group works with relevant partners to facilitate research translation, and provides evidence to inform policy and practice, particularly focusing on strengthening the use of epidemiological research by stakeholders.

    This group covers:

    • Developing novel methods for measuring and interpreting population dietary patterns
    • Understanding the role of foods, eating patterns and dietary patterns in health and wellbeing (including cardiometabolic health, mental health, cognitive function, cancer)
    • Examining dietary patterns and eating behaviours, and their relationship with other health behaviours
    • Using observational and experimental designs to understand food intake and food choice behaviours 
    • Understanding the interaction of biological, behavioural and environmental characteristics on dietary patterns to inform tailored nutrition interventions
    • Understanding food and nutrition literacy as a determinant of eating behaviours to inform interventions to assist people to promote healthy and sustainable dietary patterns.
  • Healthy and sustainable food systems

    Group members: Professor Karen Campbell, Dr Phil Baker, Dr Rebecca Lindberg, Dr Penny Love, Dr Priscila Pereira Machado, Dr Julie Woods

    The Healthy and sustainable food systems group focuses on investigating and informing innovative nutrition policy reference standards and actions that promote healthy, sustainable and equitable food systems. Our group is transdisciplinary with expertise in nutrition science, public health nutrition, ecological nutrition, health promotion, dietetics, political science, food regulation and sociology.

    To address the complex nature of today’s food and nutrition challenges, our research extends beyond a conventional nutrient-orientated approach to encompass foods, dietary patterns and food systems thinking.

    We use qualitative and quantitative research methods and undertake modelling of the health and environmental impacts of food systems. We also undertake critical analysis of policy-making associated with:

    • Dietary guidelines
    • Food and nutrition security
    • Ultra-processed foods
    • Food fortification
    • Food labelling
    • Infant formula and toddler foods and drinks
    • Nutrient reference values
    • Preventing undernutrition, obesity and diet-related non-communicable diseases.

    We work with a number of leading agencies including the World Health Organization, the Food and Agriculture Organization, Cochrane Nutrition Collaboration, International Union of Nutrition Sciences, Food Standards Australia New Zealand, VicHealth and the Federal and State governments.

    This group covers:

    • Understanding the science and politics of food and nutrition policy-making and policy actions
    • Informing policies to achieve healthy, sustainable and equitable food systems
    • Modelling and evaluating the public health implications and impacts of food and nutrition policy activities
    • Influencing food and nutrition policy and policy actions
  • School food and nutrition

    Group members: Dr Kristy Bolton, Dr Katie Lacy, Dr Penny Love, Dr Janandani Nanayakkara

    The School food and nutrition group focuses on food and nutrition education in primary and secondary schools and the food environment in these settings. We use qualitative and quantitative solutions-focused research to examine food and nutrition issues through the eyes of school staff, principals, teachers, parents and students. 

    Our group has expertise in qualitative and quantitative research methods. We are a team of culturally-diverse, highly experienced public health, nutrition and dietetics academics, early career researchers and PhD candidates.  

    This group covers:

    • Determining the role of the school food environment on individual food practices 
    • Understanding school food and nutrition teacher education and professional development needs 
    • Designing and delivering sustainable teacher food and nutrition professional development programs to support and enhance the practice of educators 
    • Assessing teachers’ self-efficacy beliefs in teaching secondary school food and nutrition 
    • Exploring different approaches to food literacy education practices and outcomes in schools  
    • Understanding school food and nutrition curriculum content  
    • Understanding how food and nutrition education is delivered in schools including use of resources 
    • Exploring how school food environment aligns with food and nutrition education delivery 
    • Understanding and improving the school food and nutrition environment including food provision, lunch duration, school food policy and governance and use of food gardens 
    • Exploring food system stakeholders’ perceptions of secondary school food literacy education. 

    We work with a number of organisations such as VCAA, HEV as well as national and international academic experts in the field.