Dr Katherine Livingstone

NHMRC Emerging Leadership Fellow

Dr Livingstone is an NHMRC Emerging Leadership Fellow and Senior Research Fellow in the Institute for Physical Activity and Nutrition (IPAN) at Deakin University. She is joint Domain Coordinator for IPAN's Food, Nutrition and Health Research Domain.

Helping young adults to eat better is food for thought

Poor diet is considered a top risk factor for many chronic diseases, and young adults aged 18 to 30 often have the most problematic dietary habits of any age group. This is a key focus informing the research of Dr Katherine Livingstone, a leading nutrition and health researcher at Deakin University.

'I’ve always been fascinated by nutrition science,' she says, remembering the Open Day at the University of Reading (UK), where she completed the Bachelor of Nutrition and Food Science. 'I recall the excitement I felt when I met with researchers … and thinking how amazing it must be to work on understanding what we eat and how it affects our health.'

With her primary areas of expertise including nutritional epidemiology and behavioural nutrition, the goal for Dr Livingstone and fellow researchers at Deakin’s Institute for Physical Activity and Nutrition (IPAN) is to address poor diet and cardiovascular health among Australians.

Designing tailored approaches to healthy eating

'My research aims to make a difference to the diet and quality of life of Australians by designing tailored approaches to healthy eating that can be implemented at scale,' Dr Livingstone says.

A key priority is to incorporate young adults into her studies to help understand their lived experiences at first hand, and to inform the design of dietary interventions and policies to meet their needs.

'I’m particularly interested in young adults, who often undergo a number of life transitions that have the potential to influence their long-term eating behaviours,' she says.

Dr Livingstone is a Senior Research Fellow supported by a National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Investigator Grant, as well as Domain Co-ordinator for IPAN’s Food, Nutrition and Health Research Domain.

Working in collaboration with local governments and national non-government organisations, her research has been cited in multiple national position statements and food system strategies.

Raised in the Netherlands and educated in the United Kingdom, Dr Livingstone received a PhD in 2013 from the University of Reading and worked as a research associate at Newcastle University, before emigrating to Australia in 2015 to join Deakin University. She is now an Australian permanent resident, which has also assisted in her eligibility for applying for external funding.

‘I chose Deakin’

'I moved from the other side of world to work at Deakin! I wanted to live in Melbourne and so I looked at a few different universities,' Dr Livingstone says. 'I chose Deakin as I felt that my research interests aligned well with those of IPAN. Deakin also offered a very appealing fellowship scheme, the Alfred Deakin Postdoctoral Research Fellowship, that I applied for and was successful with.

'IPAN also offers funding support, mentoring and leadership opportunities for Early and Mid-Career Researchers (EMCRs), which have been incredibly important for supporting my upwards career trajectory.'

Dr Livingstone says a willingness to adapt to new environments and learn new skills has equipped her with resilience that is imperative to EMCRs in the current climate.

'I am constantly being blown away by the solutions-focused approach that EMCRs have,' she says. 'They are the research leaders of the future, and I believe their creative approaches to tackling research topics is critical to the future of nutrition science.'

Looking at the bigger picture

Another enjoyable aspect of her role is to work with large databases such as the UK Biobank, which contains data on the diet and health of more than 500,000 adults. 'These data make answering some of my big picture research questions possible, such as how do our diet and genetics interact to influence health? That’s very exciting,' she says.

'I also love working with my PhD students and mentoring postdocs. They often come to me with new ideas and ways of thinking and have an unparalleled sense of enthusiasm for their work. Their energy is a privilege to nurture and it’s very rewarding to be part of their research journey.'

As a Victorian Young Tall Poppy Science Awardee, Dr Livingstone is also an enthusiastic public advocate for healthy eating, and careers in nutrition. 'I am passionate about supporting and influencing the future of nutrition science in Australia and internationally. I enjoy having a voice and supporting other EMCRs, and women in STEM to have a voice, too,' she says.

More than seven years after finishing her PhD, she remains excited about the task at hand. 'The reasons for how, what and when we eat, and how this impacts on our health, are extremely complex,' she says. 'I feel privileged to be part of a community of scientists around the world who are answering these questions.'