GLOBE Higher Degree by Research (HDR) Students

Across all streams of research activity in GLOBE, we have a strong cohort of research students pursuing PhDs, Masters and Honours projects to make a significant contribution to preventing obesity and creating healthier environments. If you are interested in undertaking a higher degree by research at GLOBE, please contact the relevant stream leader to discuss your ideas and current opportunities.

Current HDR students (selected)

Name Laura Alston

Supervisors: Dr Melanie Nichols, Prof. Steven Allender

PhD title: What should be the policy priorities to reduce disparities in ischaemic heart disease mortality among regional and rural Australians?

Summary: Laura’s PhD project has involved investigating the reasons behind the increased burden of Ischaemic Heart Disease (IHD) in rural Australia. The project has involved both quantitative and qualitative methods in order to provide evidence-based recommendations for policy priorities to reduce the burden of IHD outside of major cities. The project has included two systematic reviews, simulation modelling of modifiable risk factors and interviewing policy makers working in rural health policy in Australia.

Other areas of interest: The role of rural health services in reducing health disparities in rural areas

Deakin Profile

Name: Jane Jacobs

Supervisors: Dr Melanie Nichols, Prof Steven Allender, Dr Claudia Strugnell, Dr Kathryn Backholer

PhD title: Socio-economic variation in the prevalence and determinants of childhood obesity in regional Victoria, and the impact of a whole of community intervention across socio-economic groups

Summary: Currently, 25% of Australian children are overweight or obese, with those from lower socio-economic backgrounds being disproportionately affected. There are many contributing factors to this inequity, however differing characteristics of the physical environment may play a significant role, a factor which has primarily been studied in metropolitan areas of Australia. Using quantitative methods and Geographic Information Systems, this thesis aims to identify whether features of the physical activity and nutrition environment differ across socio-economic areas in regional Victoria, which may contribute to socio-economic differences in obesogenic behaviours and obesity levels. It will also assess whether a whole of community approach to childhood obesity prevention has a differential impact across the socio-economic spectrum.

Deakin Profile

Name: Jaimie McGlashan

Supervisors: Prof Steven Allender, Dr Josh Hayward

PhD title: The Use of Network Analysis to Evaluate Community-Based Obesity Prevention Interventions

Summary: Obesity is driven by a complex system of interconnected factors ranging from government policy, built environment and social processes. Leaders in the obesity prevention field have called to steer away from single action initiatives that have been ineffective in the past. Instead, future prevention interventions are encouraged to address complexity in their design, implementation and evaluation.

Community-based systems interventions represent a promising approach, whereby local community leaders collaborate to co-design multiple actions delivered through multiple settings in their community.  These leadership networks or steering committees have been a key component to the effectiveness and engagement of past interventions. Another main component of prospective trials is the use of systems mapping and group model building with steering committees, to develop shared understanding of the local complex system of obesity drivers. The systems maps also act as a domain to co-create solutions and are used in intervention design and implementation. While progress has been made toward tackling the complexity of obesity prevention at a community-level, methods to evaluate the complex components of systems interventions are lacking.

The overarching research question this thesis addresses is ‘How can network analysis inform the evaluation of community-based systems interventions for obesity prevention?’ The thesis aims to provide novel techniques to analyse key components of systems interventions: leadership networks and complex systems maps. This thesis was conducted in three separate phases. Firstly, the thesis retrospectively investigated the collaborative networks of intervention leaders from past community-based obesity prevention interventions using social network analysis. The second phase involved exploring the structure of complex systems maps to identify possible action areas. Finally, the thesis brought these two components together and analysed the interdependencies between the components.

Deakin Profile

Name: Cindy Needham

Supervisors: Prof Steven Allender, Dr Claudia Strugnell, Dr Liliana Orellana

PhD title: The Victorian ‘Food Outlet, Obesity and Diet (FOOD) Study: Dynamic urban food environments, diet and obesity in Greater Melbourne, Australia

Summary: Research on environmental food system changes and obesity indicates increased food energy supply, accompanied by increased energy intake have been shown to explain the increases in obesity rates around the world. The debate remains as to how much individuals are personally responsible for the foods they consume when the environment in which one habits may serve to undermine efforts to eat a healthy diet. There have been several attempts to synthesize the evidence and draw conclusions on the existence of a causal relationship between the food environment, diet and obesity. Inferences from the available evidence have been weakened due to an absence of data outside of the USA and Canada, examination of single characteristics of the food environment at one point in time, and examination of diet or obesity as the outcome of interest. This study proposes to synthesis Australian food environment evidence and spatially examine the full spectrum of food outlets in Greater Melbourne (Victoria), using Geographic Information Systems and quantitative methods to analyse the food environment longitudinally alongside measures of diet and obesity. ​

Other areas of interest: Policy and planning for obesity prevention.

Deakin Profile

Name: Christina Zorbas

Supervisors: Dr Kathryn Backholer, Prof Anna Peeters, Prof Amanda Lee

PhD title: Building the evidence-base for equitable nutrition policies to improve population diets across the socioeconomic gradient.

Summary: Unhealthy diets are leading risk factors for obesity and non-communicable diseases. In high-income countries, this preventable disease burden is higher among lower socioeconomic groups. Food policies are a critical component of any comprehensive strategy that seeks to improve population diets and reduce the associated health inequities. Nonetheless, it is unclear where political action should be prioritised to achieve equitable outcomes. Christina’s PhD draws upon multiple research methodologies (qualitative syntheses, a systematic review, epidemiology, biostatistics, policy analysis) to identify policy actions that are most likely to improve diet-related health for all socioeconomic groups.

Deakin Profile


Recently Graduated HDR students (selected)

Name: Josh Hayward

Date PhD completed: submitted October 16 2016, conferred June 2017

Supervisors: Prof Steven Allender, Prof Felice Jacka, Prof Helen Skouteris

PhD title: Adolescent Lifestyle and Depressive Symptoms: Associations and Complex Community Determinants.

Summary: This research explored adolescents’ lifestyle behaviours and depressive symptoms. Adolescents who were inactive and ate unhealthy diets reported more depressive symptoms than their healthier peers. Community stakeholders identified that lifestyle behaviours were complex and driven by various socio-cultural factors. These factors can inform new strategies to improve adolescents’ mental health.

Other areas of interest: Systems thinking, mental wellbeing, adolescent health, obesity, community engagement, indigenous health.

Deakin Profile

Name: Miranda Blake

Supervisor/s:  Dr Kathryn Backholer, Prof Anna Peeters, Prof Emily Lancsar

PhD title: Pricing strategies to reduce population sugar-sweetened beverage consumption

Summary: This thesis explores the relationship between changes to sugary drink prices and beverage purchasing across the population and for different consumer groups. Using a variety of methods, results showed a) lower price responsiveness among more frequent sugary drink consumers and similar effects on purchasing behaviour across income groups, b) combining price changes with well-designed educational messages could deliver greater benefits to lower-income groups, and c) retailer and consumer acceptability is vital for feasible and sustainable healthy food retail strategies. These findings support the implementation of sugary drink pricing initiatives to reduce their consumption across the population and among lower-income groups.

Other areas of interest: Healthy food retail initiatives; Food policy; Implementation science; Mixed methods approaches

Deakin Profile

Name: Emma Gearon

Supervisors: Prof Anna Peeters, Dr Kathryn Backholer

PhD title: The epidemiology of socioeconomic inequalities in obesity among Australian adults

Summary: In Australia, individuals with greater socioeconomic disadvantage are more likely to have obesity than their less disadvantaged counterparts. This thesis uses high-level statistical analyses to examine the epidemiology of socioeconomic inequalities in obesity for Australian adults. The findings provide evidence that socioeconomic inequalities in obesity have persisted over time, with little indication of improvement, and contribute substantially to the burden of disease and healthcare costs. Potential public health targets to reduce inequities in excess weight gain during adulthood are also suggested. These findings provide an epidemiological foundation for future research into effective and appropriate leverage points for action.

Deakin Profile

Name: Anita Lal

Supervisors: Prof Rob Carter, Prof Marj Moodie, Prof Anna Peeters

PhD title: Incorporating equity for socioeconomic position into cost-effectiveness analyses of obesity prevention interventions.

Summary: In Australia, the prevalence of obesity is highest amongst the most disadvantaged groups. The thesis explored ways of operationalising equity into cost-effectiveness analysis, by firstly analysing the equity impact of a sugar sweetened beverage (SSB) tax in Australia across SEP groups in terms of health and financial effects, and secondly by deriving equity weights as a way of formally incorporating alternative equity positions for socioeconomic groups into economic evaluations.

Deakin Profile


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