Entry for:2019 Queensland Women in STEM Prize
1. Project summary (maximum 150 words)
I am a public health nutritionist working outside the box. Unhealthy diets and poor nutrition are the leading contributors to disease worldwide representing the biggest health challenge of this century. I’m dedicated to reducing this burden for Queenslanders and the world, by working beyond the health discipline. I do this by engaging scientists from many other fields including; agriculture, economics, and earth systems science, in the fight against malnutrition and ill-health. My research adapts methods and approaches from traditional public health nutrition research, in a way that can be combined with methods and approaches in agricultural and environmental science research to identify how we can change the food supply to positively influence nutritional status of the community in Queensland and the global population. Only by working together across these different disciplines will we able to achieve good health for all.
2. How does your project benefit Queensland? (maximum 500 words)
My research aims to improve the health and nutritional status of all Queenslanders – and there are a lot that need this help! The most recent evidence is that approximately 2.7 million Queenslanders are suffering from overweight or obesity. Poor diet alone was the cause of around 3800 deaths in Queensland in 2016 (QLD Health, 2018). Despite significant efforts to curb this trend, the statistics in Queensland have not declined. The causes of poor nutrition and overweight and obesity are numerous and complex. However, there is recent international recognition that more system-wide efforts (meaning efforts that engage multiple sectors such as agriculture, transport, education etc.) are needed to address the underlying causes of poor nutrition and ill-health. This is where my work comes in. For more than 6 years now, I have been developing skills and expertise in engaging with the scientific community outside of nutrition and health (such as agricultural scientists) on the topic of nutrition and health. Specifically, this entails adapting and modifying scientific methods, approaches and even the language used in public health nutrition science, in a way that can be combined with the methods, approaches and language used by other disciplines that shape the food system. These methods and approaches range from analysis of local dietary patterns, to mapping the nutritional value of global food supply; capturing data on nutritional value of indigenous foods and understanding the relationship between the determinants of farming systems and nutritional quality of production. I have also gained a lot of experience working with scientists and communities from all over the world. There are many lessons from this international scientific research that I have been able to bring back and integrate in my research to benefit Queensland and Australia. This is extremely important because there are many different people and sectors that play a role in the food system, and ultimately shape the foods that are available for people to eat. My research enables the scientific community working in agriculture, to consider how changes in food supply can influence nutrition of the community, and therefore make decisions that can improve the nutritional quality of food that is produced, ultimately with benefits for the health of all Queenslanders. Agriculture also makes a vital contribution to the Queensland economy producing around $15 billion of produce per year and employing approximately 62,000 people (DAFF, 2014). My work contributes to the economic value of the sector by positioning Queensland and Australia as a source of high quality and nutritious food for the world.
Through this work, I am also assisting Queensland and Australia to be recognised globally as leading cross-disciplinary science in nutrition and food systems. I have engaged with the international research community through a number of partnerships, projects and science sharing forums which contributes to the strong reputation of Queensland and Australia as a base for high quality science. This helps to make Queensland and Australia a sought after partner in addressing global science challenges.
3. What STEM promotion/engagement activities do you do/have you done? (maximum 500 words)
I am extremely passionate about the importance of science communication with a variety of audiences to truly bring about change.
I communicate my research to the general community through; news articles (Brisbane Courier Mail, The Conversation, Exchange magazine, Partners magazine), through guest lectures and presentations to young Queenslanders (Brisbane Grammar School, Queensland University of Technology, University of Queensland and University of the Sunshine Coast), radio interviews (ABC Radio National, Ultra1065) and more recently through Twitter and my social media profile.
I communicate my work with the scientific community through a number of local, national and international forums. Some recent highlights include, being the Chair of a large side event at the United Nations and International Food Policy Research Institute conference on ‘Accelerating the End of Hunger and Malnutrition’ in Thailand, presenter and panellist at the ‘International Rice Congress’ in Singapore, presenter at the Public Health Association of Australia ‘Food Futures’ conference in Brisbane, guest speaker at the Crawford Fund ‘Reshaping Agriculture for Better Nutrition’ event at Parliament House in Canberra, and speaker at the ‘International Congress of Nutrition’ in Argentina.
I also prioritise engaging with policy makers as a key audience for translating scientific evidence into real-world change. Most recently I was invited by Senator Bridget McKenzie to speak on the topic of nutrition and food systems at the ‘National Obesity Summit’ in Canberra. This was an extremely exciting event as the proceedings will feed into development of a National Obesity Strategy to address poor nutrition and health of Australians.
Furthermore, I am developing a strong academic record as a vital means of engaging with the scientific community internationally. I am an author of peer-reviewed journal articles in several leading scientific journals including The Lancet, Nature Sustainability, The Lancet Planetary Health, Plos One, Global Food Security and others. My most recent publication as a Fellow on the Lancet Commission on Obesity (paper titled The Global Syndemic of Obesity, Undernutrition and Climate Change) has ranked as the third highest scientific output in terms of global visibility (measured by Altmetric Attention score) of all CSIRO scientific papers in the last ten years. In my career to date I have authored 14 peer-reviewed journal articles, and several published reports. I also prioritise giving feedback to the scientific community as a mode of engagement, by serving as a peer-reviewer of other research submitted for publication which I have done for eight scientific papers. Participation in this peer-review process is crucial (yet often undervalued) for maintaining and raising the quality of science research in the public sphere.
All of these approaches to engagement with the science community, policy makers and the broader community are crucial for enabling me to work across different science disciplines and for my research findings to actually influence decision making and improve quality of life for Queenslanders and the global community.
Jessica is an Accredited Practicing Dietitian (APD) and Nutrition Systems Scientist with CSIRO Agriculture and Food, based in Brisbane. As a dietitian and public health nutritionist, she is interes...