The heart of the matter

Melanie Nichols leads major European study.

Dr Melanie Nichols
Dr Melanie Nichols

Deakin researcher Dr Melanie Nichols has played the lead role in a landmark European study that has found that death rates from coronary heart disease have more than halved in almost all EU countries since the early 1980s.

The study, the results of which have just been published in the prestigious European Heart Journal, looked at deaths from the condition between 1980 and 2009 in men and women across four age groups - under-45, 45-54, 55-64, and 65 and over.

The results of the study were also reported heavily in the European media, including on the BBC where Dr Nichols warned that despite the drop in deaths, heart disease remains one of the biggest killers in Europe, and both health authorities and individuals can’t afford to be complacent.

"It is clear that there are some countries in which trends are cause for concern, where overall rates of decrease in coronary heart disease mortality do appear to have slowed, and a small number of countries in which CHD [Coronary heart disease] mortality rates have begun to increase significantly in recent years or decades in younger subpopulations,” said Dr Nichols.

"In addition, we should emphasise that cardiovascular disease remains the leading cause of death in Europe, and it is important that we continue to focus efforts on primary prevention, including reducing smoking, improving diets and physical activity levels."

Denmark, Malta, the Netherlands, Sweden and the UK, had the largest decreases in mortality in both sexes over the past three decades.

Dr Nichols, a Research Fellow at the World Health Organisation Collaborating Centre for Obesity Prevention, part of the Population Health Strategic Research Centre at Deakin, worked on the European study between 2011 and 2012 as part of the British Heart Foundation Health Promotion Research Group at the University of Oxford.

She led the European Cardiovascular Disease Statistics 2012 project as part of the EuroHeart II project, which was funded by the European Commission.

The project examined Europe-wide cardiovascular disease mortality, morbidity, treatment and risk factors, with special attention to inequalities and recent trends, and culminated in a significant report which was launched by the European Heart Network on World Heart Day 2012.

Dr Nichols’ research focuses on the epidemiology of heart disease and other non-communicable diseases, and community-based approaches to promoting health.

She has worked extensively in evaluation of community-based obesity prevention, including the successful Sentinel Site for Obesity Prevention programs in the Barwon South-Western region of Victoria, which generated world-leading evidence into the effectiveness of whole of community-approaches to obesity prevention. She has also worked for three years providing support in evaluation and evidence to community-based initiatives across Australia through the CO-OPS Collaboration of Obesity Prevention Sites.

More recently, Dr Nicholas has led two successful grants to support and evaluate innovative obesity prevention projects. Funding was received in 2012 from the ACT Government Health Directorate for development and evaluation of a three year systems-based intervention to prevent obesity among secondary students (ACT-It’s Your Move!).

From 2013, a grant from the Australian National Preventive Health Agency will support evaluation of capacity building and professional network development in the OPAL obesity prevention program in South Australia using Social Network Analysis techniques.

Dr Nichols completed her PhD in Public Health at Deakin University in 2009. Her PhD thesis investigated issues around prevention of obesity in early childhood, including recent trends in prevalence, behaviours and environments.

Prior to beginning her research career, Dr Nichols qualified as a dietitian, and worked in the field of gastroenterological disorders. She holds tertiary qualifications in nutrition and dietetics and health promotion.

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