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.

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 groups

  • Nutrition in pregnancy, early years, and childhood

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

    The Nutrition in pregnancy, early years and childhood group focuses on informing opportunities that will ensure all parents and their children can maximise nutrition-related health across their lives. We work to describe what and how parents 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 focus ranges from pre-conception health through the first 1000 days of life and beyond, to childcare and school settings. Our group has expertise across epidemiology, nutrition and dietetics, health behavior change interventions, the use of m-health to support behavior change, implementation science and research translation.

     

    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 1000 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, child care, early childhood education and schools).
  • Nutrients and health

    Group members: Professor Karen Campbell, 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

    This 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 Elena George, Dr Rebecca Leech, Dr Rebecca Lindberg, Dr Katherine Livingstone, 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 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 dietary intakes
    • Examining dietary patterns and behaviours, and their determinants and relationships with other health behaviours
    • Understanding the role of foods, eating patterns and dietary patterns in health and wellbeing (including cardiometabolic health, mental health, cognitive function)
    • Understanding the interaction of biological, behavioural and environmental characteristics on dietary patterns
    • Using observational and experimental designs to understand food intake and food choice behaviours
    • Understanding the role of food and nutrition education in improving food literacy
    • Promoting food and nutrition literacy to help people gain knowledge, confidence and skills to follow healthy and sustainable dietary patterns
    • Building the evidence base to inform sustainable, tailored nutrition strategies that promote health and wellbeing.
  • Community and retail environments that support healthy eating

    Group members: Alfred Deakin Professor Kylie Ball, Alfred Deakin Professor David Crawford, Alfred Deakin Professor Anna Timperio

    This group focuses on how neighbourhoods, workplaces, schools, sport facilities, and other retail and public spaces shape individual food decisions. Our group has expertise in measuring food environments and evaluating environmental interventions aimed at supporting healthier food and beverage (non-alcoholic) choices. Using our collective skills in epidemiology, and geography our group is well-equipped to explore the complex relationships between environments and food-related decisions. We work with stakeholders to shape environments to encourage healthier food behaviours.

    This group covers:

    • Measuring and monitoring the opportunities provided by community and retail environments to enable consumers to purchase and consume healthier food and beverages
    • Determining the role of the environment on individual food and beverage behaviours
    • Investigating attributes of the environment that can be changed to encourage healthier food and beverage behaviours.
  • Food policy and public health

    Group members: Dr Phil Baker, Dr Rebecca Lindberg, Dr Priscila Machado, Dr Julie Woods

    This group focuses on investigating and informing innovative policy actions that promote sustainable and equitable food systems and protect public health. Our group is interdisciplinary with expertise in public health nutrition, health promotion, dietetics, political science, food regulation, psychology 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
    • Food fortification
    • Food labelling
    • Infant formula
    • 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 Cochrane Collaboration, 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
    • Informing policies to achieve healthy and sustainable food systems
    • Monitoring and evaluating the public health implications of food policies and regulations
    • Influencing food and nutrition policy and public health.