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For a healthy lifestyle, good company may be as important as good nutrition.
That’s the view of Deakin University’s Australian Research Council Future Fellow Dr Sarah McNaughton from the Centre for Physical Activity and Nutrition Research (CPAN).
“Food is not just about the nutrients, it is also about the social interactions that go with it,” Dr McNaughton said.
“Having someone to sit and have meal with is very important because we find that people eating alone may not cook a nutritious meal.
“It’s an issue facing older adults in particular.”
Dr McNaughton is leading a Diabetes Australia Research Trust and Australian Research Council funded research project that involves 4000 Victorians aged between 55 and 65 years.
“My overall research interest is in dietary patterns across the life-course,” she said.
“With my colleagues at CPAN, I am collaborating on research projects that work with young children right through to older adults.We know little about how dietary patterns vary across life and the impact of life-stage transitions on diet and health.
“A major focus of my work is dietary patterns, so rather than focusing on individual nutrients or foods, we are looking at the patterns of eating and the interactions between what people are eating and the impact on their health.
“In the older age groups, the factors that influence what people eat may be quite different to someone who has just left home.”
“We want to find out what social and environment influences there might be on their diet and try and develop interventions that can help people maintain a healthy diet and lifestyle.
“If we can develop programs that can improve nutrition and help reduce chronic disease, then that will have an impact on our community where the costs of public health are growing all the time.
“I guess you’d say I am very passionate about nutrition and I am particularly interested in how we can prevent ill-health and improve quality of life through good nutrition.
“I trained as a dietitian and have moved into the public health, examining ways to prevent chronic disease.”
As part of that move, Dr McNaughton joined CPAN in October 2005, having “sought Deakin out”.
“Deakin has a reputation as a leader in public health nutrition,” she says.
“I was very keen to come and work in a centre that covers everything from basic science to public health and also includes experts in physical activity, an ambition that was helped when I won a National Health and Medical Research Council Public Health Post-Doctoral research fellowship.
“That allowed me to work with David Crawford and Kylie Ball.”
Alfred Deakin Professor Crawford heads up CPAN while Professor Ball is an NHMRC Senior Research Fellow in the area of physical activity, nutrition and obesity.
“David Crawford has been a fantastic mentor for me,” Dr McNaughton said.
“He has provided with me research opportunities that I would not have had if I hadn’t come to CPAN.
“The success that CPAN is achieving is due to a lot of hard work on his part, and also on the part of the other fantastic people here, too. We’re attracting a lot of interest not just in Australia but from around the world.”
Good company, it seems, is important to good research, too!