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Q&A with Dr Jennifer Browne

Food and Nutrition Policy for First Nations peoples – translating evidence into action

Dr Jennifer Browne received a 2020 Heart Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship for her research project ‘Food and Nutrition Policy for First Nations peoples – translating evidence into action’ at Deakin University. Her fellowship builds on her experience and research as a dietitian, public health nutritionist and Alfred Deakin Postdoctoral Fellow at the Institute for Health Transformation’s Global Obesity Centre, Deakin University.

What are you currently researching?

My research project focuses on which population-wide food and nutrition policy options are likely to be most acceptable and effective for Aboriginal populations. These policy options include reducing the cost of healthy foods, restricting junk food marketing, placing a tax on sugary drinks or improving food labelling. During my Fellowship, I will review the current evidence and will undertake food policy workshops with Victorian Aboriginal communities. This research will provide new evidence to support population-wide action to improve the health and wellbeing of Aboriginal people. Although the project will be undertaken with Aboriginal people in Victoria, the findings may also apply to the wider Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population, particularly those living in cities and towns.

What difference will your research make to people's cardiovascular health in Australia?

The connection between cardiovascular health and nutrition is clear.  Unhealthy diets are a major contributor to preventable chronic disease in Australia, including cardiovascular disease.
For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, cardiovascular disease is responsible for almost 20% of the gap in health outcomes between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.    Healthy food environments are key to improved nutrition and cardiovascular health, both in the Aboriginal community and the general population. The outcomes of this research will provide new evidence for population-wide policy action to improve healthy food environments. This will improve the cardiovascular health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living in urban and regional Australia.

What motivated you to do your research?

I started my career working as a dietitian at the Victorian Aboriginal Health Service and then worked for 12 years as a public health nutritionist with the Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (VACCHO). This experience increased my awareness of the health challenges faced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people compared with the general population. Improving nutrition requires changes to the broader food environment and policies rather than only focusing on individual behaviour change. It also became clear to me that Aboriginal people must be involved in the design of health policies and strategies if they are to be effective.

What difference does your Heart Foundation funding make to you and your future in research? 

The fellowship from the Heart Foundation will enable me to build on two years of research that I have undertaken in collaboration with VACCHO and other Aboriginal colleagues to improve food and nutrition through population-wide policies. The project funded by the Heart Foundation builds on my Alfred Deakin Postdoctoral Fellowship work.  This will hopefully put me in a strong position so that in the future can translate my current research into meaningful health outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

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