A Career in Nutrition

Once you leave school and head to University most of us are around the ages of 17-19. For me it was 18 and I found it quite daunting to think that at this young age I should be choosing a career path. However to be eligible for the undergraduate courses at University I was interested in, it was actually the age of 16 when I had to start making decisions about what I wanted to be when I “grew up”. I decided at this stage that I liked science and health so a career in Nutrition might be the way to go for me.Six years later after my final 2 years of high school and a 4 year University degree I graduated with a Bachelor of Dietetics and Nutrition.

Most of my class-mates at University had decided on clinical based careers whilst I knew that wasn’t really for me. When the opportunity of a research assistant job came up with a focus on using my nutritional knowledge and skills it seemed like a good opening into a previously unthought of career field. My ideas of research had been those of white lab coats, analysing samples and spending hours in a windowless lab. However as I have discovered that vision is only one stream of what research is and can offer those who work in it.

In 2011 I started working within The Child Health & Wellbeing Program here at the University of Melbourne. My job, as a Research Assistant, has given me the opportunity to develop a nutrition education pilot study which explored whether nutrition education and support can improve the nutritional quality of food being distributed through emergency food relief networks. I also co-ordinate a dental birth cohort study with over 300 children involved, that looks at gaining a broader and more detailed understanding of the factors involved in the development of dental decay in young children.


Food Bank hamper

This job has allowed me to work with a great team of people from all different backgrounds and each week have been out interacting with the agencies who provide emergency food relief, collecting data from the children and their mothers in the dental study and been all across Victoria from the suburbs of Melbourne out to Warrnambool, Ballarat, Ararat and rural and remote town’s in-between. I have developed skills in planning, researching, organisation, management and communicating with key stakeholders, our participants and our wider team. To hear feedback like the work you do helps to improve the nutritional quality of food given out at food relief agencies and thereby improving food insecure individual’s health, has motivated me to want to continue working in population health and given great insight into how projects are started, managed and evaluated.

Although this job is very different to what I thought I would ever be doing at the age of 16 and throughout University it’s been very rewarding and full of learning. In particular this job has highlighted the fact that while you may be young when you are trying to navigate your way from school to university and then transitioning into the “real world” of work, that what you want to be when you “grow up” is a constantly morphing idea and that there are always going to be opportunities out there that you may not have even knew existed until they pop up along your journey.


Blog by Emily Amezdroz

Research Assistant, Child Health & Wellbeing Program




It’s time we all listen to Indi

With the seat of Indi still too close to call it may well be that the role of children in same-sex relationships may have had some small bearing on the outcome. Sophie Mirabella, a Liberal Party frontbencher who headed into the election with a comfortable 9 point lead, has found herself in the fight of her life. Her competition, Cathy McGowan, is a popular local independent enjoying significant support in an election that generally saw a considerable swing to the Liberal Party. Now I am not a political pundit, and I am sure there are many factors at play that have led to this surprising result, but I can not look past the role that same-sex families may have played in the final days of the campaign.


Photo from: http://www.cathymcgowan.com.au/

On the Wednesday before the election The Age reported on the distribution of offensive pamphlets in the seat of Indi. Let me make it clear at the outset, there is no evidence that these pamphlets were either the responsibility of, or supported by, the Liberal Party. The pamphlets portrayed young children with quotes such as, “I need my mum and dad.” They went on to urge voters to distribute their vote such that Cathy McGowan, among others, be preferenced last. The reason given in the pamphlet was that Ms McGowan is in favour of marriage equality. Sophie Mirabella has consistently and repeatedly emphasised her position that marriage should only be between a man and a woman and, as reported in The Age, she believes that marriage was “developed for the creation and raising of children.”

It is reassuring to think that perhaps our research is starting to gain significant traction in the community. Where previously these scare tactics might have boosted the conservative vote it seems that we might be moving into an era where the population as a whole understand that there are many valid and healthy ways to raise children. This evolution in public opinion is so important. As our research evolves we are seeing the negative impact that opinions such as those expressed in the unwelcome pamphlets can have on children with same-sex attracted parents. And while these children are in general developing well, a message that may finally be cutting through, the final remnants of negative outcomes could be taking their last gasps as local Australians embrace same-sex parent families, even if some politicians are slow to reflect this.

The coming days will bring a final result in Indi, but whoever triumphs one thing is certain. At least in this small corner of our country attempts to discriminate against, and vilify, same-sex attracted parents seem to have failed. It gives me hope that with the aid of our ongoing work same-sex parent families have a bright future. Perhaps Mr Abbott will realise this and allow a conscience vote the next time marriage equality comes up in parliament.

Come on Prime Minister, listen to Indi.

By Dr Simon R Crouch
Lead Investigator, The Australian Study of Child Health in Same-Sex Families

Repost: 9/11 by John Richardson

John Richardson’s role within Australian Red Cross is the National Coordinator – Strategic Development for Emergency Services. He is also an investigator on the Beyond Bushfires Research Project, (exploring the medium to long term recovery following the 2009 Victorian bushfires) and an Honorary Fellow with The Jack Brockhoff Child Health  & Wellbeing Program, McCaughey VicHealth Centre for Community Wellbeing, The University of Melbourne. He has extensive knowledge and experience in disaster response and recovery and has a strong preparedness focus, with the overall aim to reduce the disaster impact on people’s lives.

Our blog is attempting to show you the broad range of projects and collaborators that are part of The Jack Brockhoff Child Health & Wellbeing Program. Have a read over John’s blog to understand the breadth and experience of those involved with us.

Warning: Content Advisory. I describe some graphic scenes, if you aren’t feeling like it, don’t read on today, maybe another day

Today, of course, is the 12th anniversary of the September 11 attacks. My thoughts go out to all those affected, through bereavement, through subsequent trauma, and through the fear and suspicion that pervaded society.

9/11, as it has become to be known, is one of those defining moments in history, the ‘where were you’. We were on our way home from friends, and surprisingly did not turn on the radio, rather, enjoying the quiet of the dark spring night. We were pretty oblivious to it all, until my sister in law rang at 1 or 2 in the morning, and in a highly emotional voice described what was happening. I thought she was on some hallucinogenic. That was until I turned on the radio and logged onto the internet (we had no television then), and found the news sites all crashed. Eventually, a site loaded somewhere in the world, and it become apparent. We were, like the rest of the world, stunned, listening to the radio and it’s terrible descriptions.

The train next day to work was sombre, there were people reading the paper and openly crying. But then a conversation I overhead between two young women.

“That was terrible”

“What was”                       

Y’know, the planes, new York, world trade center”

Oh that, yeah pretty bad


“so, what are you wearing on Friday night”

One women clearly wanted to talk about it, the other didn’t. People I tell this anecdote, roll their eyes  “the young”, but I think fFor some it was so far away, abstract, and for younger people they had grown up in a decade previous which saw the cold war end, adn the dawn of a new (false) hope. perhaps they couldn’t comprehend it. The one picture that remains imprinted on me, causing me to tear up, is of the couples jumping, hand in hand.

In those days afterwards, there was a surreal feeling. There was a sense of apprehension, even here in Australia. There really was an unspoken feeling around the place, that, “Is this the end of the world?”, the clash of religions turning into a fiery maelstrom. There was talk of recessions. I remember talking to a guy in an outdoor shop, and he felt that business was way down, people don’t want to spend. Yet I also recall an interview that I read with the organiser of the Melbourne Bridal Show who said it was booming, people wanted bigger dresses, longer cars, larger wedding parties, and the feeling was, well if the world is going to end, then we should go out in a big way (so different to my parents’ generation who di face the end of the world with WW2 and the cold war).

The State Emergency Recovery Unit put in place a very basic recovery program. People questioned me, why bother it’s over there. We wanted to make sure, though, if people had been through that, and were returning home, there would be something for them. So we placed materials with immigration officials and the Australian Consulate in New York for them to give to people returning from Washington and New York, we advertised a hotline, and we had Rob Gordon do some media, talking about trauma. We also put together some materials to help children understand the impacts. IT was pretty low key, and a few people came forward seeking some assistance. This did put us in good stead when the Bali Bombings happened a year later.

One of the things I think a lot about when I think about 9/11 is the terror of the buildings collapsing, and what this must have been like. Again, we take buildings for granted, they are pretty solid designed to stay up. So when they don’t, it challenges some of our fundamental assumptions. At one point when I fancied myself as writing some stories,  I did some research a few years back about what was happening  in the towers. I thought I might place an Australian in the towers and try to tell a story. There are many accounts. The thought of people sitting at their desks on a clear blue sky day, liek we do every day, incinerated as the planes hit. Those that aren’t,the sense of surprise, not knowing, then being trapped, options of escape narrowing, acrid smoke, confusion, the building, designed to stand, collapsing beneath the feet, people perhaps holding out hope of rescue other resigned to their fate. This is the horror that people deal with in extremely traumatic events, and if they survive, what they need to deal with for the rest of their lives. The phone calls are most harrowing, reading those transcripts.  Immersing myself in this, you begin to gain an appreciation of the trauma (only begin).

The events in New York, and to a lesser extent Washington, have become etched in popular culture. The overwhelming nature of the event has given opportunity for artists to respond in different ways. Some representations are good, some not so good. Not that I read much coming out of disasters or watch disaster movies. I probably should, but feel I am too close it all.

Music is different for me. 9/11 generated a significant number of songs, some good, some well, not my taste. Bruce Springsteen’s The Rising is an impressive attempt to deal with the consequences of 9/11. I dismissed it initially, how could anyone write about it, the boss doesn’t have the emotional range to deal with this stuff, it’ll just be another epic we will fight them on beaches type thin. Boy, I was wrong. Even though the first song, Lonesome Day, has it’s Boss anthemic qualities, touches on loss and dealing with it. The most poignant track for me is Nothing Man. The lyrics capture so well the emotions of the survivor:

Around here, everyone acts the same

Around here everyone acts as if nothing’s changed

Friday night, the club meets at Al’s Barbeque

The sky is still the same unbelievable blue

He spent a long time talking to the bereaved, the survivors, these are their stories. Springsteen makes it real, because of his roots, the words of the average Joe and Josie. This is why it is an effective telling of people’s grief, loss and trauma. And there is hope.

John Adam’s On the Transmigration of Souls is another impressive rendering of the hole created by the events. It is a short classical work for orchestra and choir, using street noises and the text drawn from notes left on fences around Ground Zero, starting with a siren and a repeated word, missing. It was commissioned for the first anniversary, and given Adams pre-eminence as one of the great living composers, it fell to him make some sense of the events. It is an extraordinarily powerful, complex and beautiful work, not anthemic, more contemplative, with a sense of darkness. Adams hopes that it becomes a memory space.  It is interesting in the liner notes, it is written:

“It is not at all obvious how music, or any art, should respond to catastrophe. Adams new piece left most critics awed but uncertain of their judgements, at a loss for words.”

This is important. If it were obvious, it would be simple. And we know it’s not simple. 9/11 provoked conflicted responses, many drowned out. Some weren’t like Steve Earle’s Jerusalem or Ani DiFranco’s Self Evident. Leaving us at a loss for words is a good thing, the events left us all at a loss for words.

Steve Reich also uses recorded voices and tapes for his work WTC 9/11 for the Kronos Quartet. The voices in both pieces anchor the works at the street level, in reality, which I like. IT is also short, Reich saying in the liner notes he wanted the piece to be terse. It is a lot harder listening than Adam’s piece, but is also powerful, creating a sense of uncertainty about the whole events. It is worth the effort

I am fascinated how people respond creatively to these events. I know how I respond, this is my work. But as artist, how does one respond, as mentioned above, to catastrophe. This is why I am in awe of creative people, and creativity helps us make sense of a situation, and with that sense comes meaning, for which we all search for, both in disasters, and in everyday life.  

Using Social Media in a Research Environment.

Jack and Jill went up the hill to fetch a pail of water….but before they left, Jack logged onto Facebook to ask his friends where the best well was. Jill tweeted about their upcoming adventure with the hash tag #fetchingwater. They both checked in through their Facebook when they arrived on the hill and shared a photo of #fetchingwater through their Instagram accounts. Then Jack wrote a blog.

These days, it seems most of us can’t go through a day, or a couple of hours in my case, without using some form of social media. According to the Yellow Social Media Report 62% of internet users in Australia have a presence on social networking sites, with Facebook the clear leader. We are using social (social media) to catch up with family and friends, share photos, coordinate social events and one in five of us are using social for commercial purposes by following our favourite brands (Yellow Social Media Report). Given how powerful social is in connecting with others and sharing information, it was only natural that our research program here at The University of Melbourne should be on there!

So in late 2010, we jumped online.

One of our greatest challenges was finding our audience. We are a research only team funded by a philanthropic gift. We have a small number of PhD students but do not do any teaching or have much involvement with students at all. We have a niche research area of child health. Previous to any involvement on social our key outlet for completed research was journal articles, which would be published and circulated through academic contacts. If we were lucky we would get something published in a newspaper maybe once or twice a year. Journalists aren’t typically interested in anything that 1. They have heard before or 2. Doesn’t raise controversy or have an obvious dramatic impact.

So our aim was to firstly make ourselves known, create an online brand and raise awareness of our little program. Once we had done this we wanted to increase our engagement and interactions with our followers.

I have to admit, it hasn’t been all roses and daisies, and we still have a long way to go, but this is what we have learnt.

  1. Social is ALL about engagement. Yes you want to promote your brand but endless self-promotion without generating conversation can push people away. It is absolutely fine to post about projects and people but don’t forget to pose questions, reply to others’ posts, and share similar content. The rule of thumb is 20/80. 20% posting your content, 80% interacting with others. Before you post consider ‘Why do I care and why would they share?’ Search for people talking about you or your content and interact with them!Image
  2. ‘You must entertain in order to educate.’ Not all your content needs to be serious. This point goes hand in hand with point 1. Part of our social media strategy includes about 2-3 ‘fun’ posts related to research per week. Given that much of our audience are academics, this is something they can relate too. Some great examples that have worked for us are PhD comics and regular posts about ‘Why writing a thesis is harder than having a baby’ (Point 1. Three months before your due date, your doctor doesn’t say ‘’I want you to go back and re-do the first trimester’s work”).  It’s funny and when people can relate they like and share. And bingo, you have increased your reach! Any new fan obtained through a ‘fun’ post will be new eyes when the next informative post goes out.Image
    (Image thanks to phdcomics.com)
  3. Maintain a constant presence. You see, with Facebook’s algorithms, the less you are on Facebook, the less someone interacts with you. The less someone interacts with you, the less likely they will see your content in their news feed. If you are going to invest in social media, make sure you commit. At least 1 post per day (or two).
  4. Create a voice. Give your social a voice. Create a persona. People will relate to you and your content more if they feel it comes from a person and not a robot/machine. The reason we have entered into the blogosphere is to show people our personal side and share with people just why we love our job.  Right now you are learning about my job and the triumphs and tribulations of it. Hopefully this will make you take a look at our social pages too, maybe even our website? If I’m lucky you may just share! Bang, I’ve done my job.
  5. Plan, plan, plan. My final piece of advice is to plan. This way you can keep a constant presence on social without flipping out and resorting to posting nonsense just for the sake of it. Have a conversational calendar that outlines discussion topics for the next few weeks or months. This plan will reduce the burden on staff and they will be approached in advance for material that will be posted. Particular content can be allocated for particular days of the week to maintain consistency. Additional breaking news can be put up as an extra post/tweet.

What kind of content has worked for us? Photos of staff, project and participants (make sure you have consent!), short videos, ‘fun’ posts (as previously discussed), tips from PhD students, expert perspective, upcoming seminars, and conferences and publications.

Be prepared. Have a thick skin. Respond to everyone. Delete spam.

So don’t view social as a challenging hill to climb. Be like our modern day Jack and Jill. Use social as a means to an end. There is very little danger that you will fall down and break your crown – and if you do you can tweet for a doctor: #crackedskull




Written by Alana Pirrone-Savona
Media & Communications Officer for the Jack Brockhoff Child Health & Wellbeing Program
The University of Melbourne

Is marriage equality really that important this election? Just ask Russia.

Although the majority of Australians are in favour of marriage equality many would agree that it is not a high priority issue and that other aspects of policy should take centre stage. But when I vote tomorrow I will be certain that any candidates I mark with the number 1 are on the record as supporting same-sex marriage. OK, so I am perhaps more personally engaged in the debate than most, but it is important that we all contribute to the continued progress of social issues in our country.


Just take a look at Russia. Recently this European country took a step backwards in terms of human rights when it passed legislation earlier this year that essentially banned any positive discussion of homosexuality in public. There has been a small but significant reaction to this step with some calling for a boycott of the Winter Olympics next year, and high profile celebrities deciding to ‘come out’ and voice their dissent.

 But today reports are emerging that Russian lawmakers have drafted a bill that would see children being removed from parents based on a “nontraditional sexual orientation.” This outdated view, which suggests children need to be protected from exposure to homosexuality, has been lifted right out of the 1970s. Almost forty years ago some researchers tried to suggest that children with homosexual parents will themselves grow up with the same deviant sexuality and that this would be a very dangerous outcome. In fact, what forty years of research has shown is that kids with same-sex attracted parents are doing just fine, thank you very much. And the only thing that has any significant impact on their health and wellbeing is just the type of discrimination that Russian politicians are subjecting same-sex parent families to.

 Australia is at a crossroads. Our research is strengthening previous findings that kids with same-sex attracted parents are doing really well, but that they are adversely impacted by the perceived discrimination they feel when hearing the negative rhetoric that surrounds issues such as marriage equality. This is what drives my work. The ability to provide the all important, balanced evidence that policy makers can draw upon to inform essential debates in our society. Our work on child health in same-sex parent families is still in its infancy but already it has received attention around the globe as more and more countries seek to move on marriage equality. But equally we, the voters, need to understand the evidence as we go to the polls and decide who will lead our country in the coming years.

 This is why we need to move forward as a nation. This is not an issue that wears particular political colours – there are advocates and opponents on all sides. But for the sake of our children pay attention to where your first preference sits on the issue tomorrow. There are children in Russia with an uncertain future – let’s make sure we secure ours.

How voting for equity will make life better now and in the future


This article was originally published on The Conversation.

With the upcoming election, we wanted to provide our perspective to the ongoing debate. This article outlines some of our key thoughts regarding pressing election issues.

The impending federal election provides a good opportunity to pause and ask ourselves what kind of society we want to live in. The decision we make will impact both our lives and that of our children as they develop into adults and become tomorrow’s decision-makers.

At times, real policy messages can get lost in the noise of the election campaign and we are left thinking that the only rational option is to vote for selfish reasons.

But what if living in a society in which some of us are much better off than others is actually bad for all of us – even those of us who are most privileged?

The problem with inequality

There’s considerable evidence that more unequal societies have lower life expectancy and higher mortality rates; higher rates of stress and mental illness; more crime and higher imprisonment rates; and reduced quality of life.

This is not just because less egalitarian societies have more poor people, whose health and social outcomes pull down the average. Even the relatively wealthy in more unequal societies (such as the United States) do worse than others with similar levels of income living in societies with a more even spread of wealth (such as Scandinavian nations).

In Australia, rising average incomes over the last three decades have been accompanied by increases in inequality. Although polls suggest that voters’ greatest concern is the economy, research shows that beyond a certain level, increases in a country’s wealth are not associated with increased health, happiness or longevity for its people.

This is not only true for adults, a UNICEF report looking at the well-being of children in wealthy countries draws a similar picture.

This idea underpins much of our focus on inequalities within child public health research; social and economic inequalities will determine future economic status, educational achievement, and social inclusion of children.

So, what are the implications of an “equity lens” for considering the array of policies presented to us as the federal election looms? If inequality is bad for all of us, how should we weigh up the major parties’ offerings on disability support, paid parental leave, same-sex marriage, and asylum seekers?

Disability issues

Some policies appear to be moving in the right direction. DisabilityCare Australia (the National Disability Insurance Scheme) for example, is a significant policy that has bipartisan support.

At present, the level of support a person receives depends on the state in which they live, whether their disability is congenital or acquired, and how it is acquired.

When fully rolled out, DisabilityCare will result in funding being allocated directly to an individual or, in the case of children, their parents or legal guardians, to provide the support necessary to meet their needs.

While the implications for equity will ultimately be determined by how services are delivered, the policy ensures assistance for a far greater proportion of families dealing with disability.

Parental leave

Paid parental leave is an international indicator for child health and well-being. So how do the major parties’ schemes measure up?

Much of the Labor party’s criticism of the Coalition’s more “generous” plan to provide women on salaries of up to A$150,000 with 100% of their income for six months focuses on its affordability. Perhaps the more concerning issue is its impact on equity.

Many of the most disadvantaged families in our society – those with parents not in paid employment, or in insecure, low-paid, intermittent, or casual jobs – may be worse off than under current arrangements. This is particularly so if the baby bonus (the A$5,000 to which they are now entitled) is reduced or abolished to fund the new scheme.

If paid parental leave is intended to provide children with the best possible start in life, then surely we need to ensure that its provision does not widen the gap between rich and poor.

Same-sex marriage

Marriage equality is an area of contrast between the two major parties. Although the Labor party changed 85 pieces of federal legislation in 2008 to bring “equality” to same-sex parented families, the negative rhetoric and lack of leadership from both sides of politics (until Kevin Rudd’s very recent declaration of support for same-sex marriage) has a significant impact on same-sex attracted parents and their families.

In fact, stigma resulting from inequity is linked to poorer child health outcomes. Although children with same-sex attracted parents are generally doing well, a lack of equitable recognition by politicians is an ongoing source of disadvantage.

Asylum seekers

It can be difficult to keep up with the shifts in asylum seeker policy as the major parties vie with each other to be seen as the most “hardline” and more capable of “stopping the boats”.

Important human rights arguments and international legal obligations aside, what are the implications for global equity of reducing foreign aid to pay for ever more expensive policies of deterrence?

In the national context, we are spending billions of dollars annually on off-shore processing of refugees. The same amount of money could provide better and more productive settlement outcomes for many more refugees in Australia. And there would be funds left to contribute to high-quality government education, health care, and public transport for all of us.

We also now have policies whereby asylum seekers “lucky enough” to be living in our community rather than detained, are denied the right to work or be reunited with other members of their family. What kind of under-class are we creating, and how will the children growing up in those families experience the future?

Everybody’s business

Typically, concern with social justice is associated with the political left. And it appears to be something we’re all too ready to jettison for the supposed benefits of greater economic growth.

But if inequality is bad for all of us, then it’s actually in our own self interest to prevent it. And it certainly is in the interests of our children for us to consider the impact of policies on social equity when casting our votes this weekend.

Authors: Dr Karen Block, Dr Elise Davis, Prof Elizabeth Waters, Dr Lisa Gibbs & Dr Simon Crouch

Welcome to Research Connect


‘Before, I have a lot of problem you know. I have a lot of thinking about my family you know. But I came to Ucan2 and got a lot of friends came, talk and speak like that… Before I come I can’t laugh – because I can’t. After I come to Ucan2, yeah I can laugh with my friends’

(Afghan male 26)

Hearing inspirational quotes like the one above changes our lives. It reenergizes our passion for research and health promotion and we remember why we do this job and why we love it. Those countless hours of planning, ethics submissions, draft upon drafts of papers, and the acceptance or rejection from journals are all part of the life of an academic, and all worth it when you hear a quote like this.

Here at the Child Health & Wellbeing Program, we work towards a vision of every child having the opportunity for a fulfilling and healthy life. Our research, through partnerships and an evidence-informed approach, aims to significantly shift population health and reduce gaps in child health inequalities.

Through this blog, you will hear stories from our team about why we carry out research in this field. What motivates and inspires our team and why they take these approaches to their research. We encourage others to engage in friendly debate about our topics and ask questions, whether you are a fellow researcher, a colleague or are just interested in child health research and promotion.

We will be covering topics such as mental health, disability, wellbeing, quality of life, oral health, obesity, health eating, physical activity, learning, development, disadvantage, vulnerability, equity, human rights and children and families in the contexts of disasters.

Please do share your thoughts and comments by commenting on these pages. We hope you enjoy our blog.

Liz Waters

Professor Elizabeth Waters is the Jack Brockhoff Chair of Child Public Health at The University of Melbourne.