Our new PhD projects

Meron Lewis
Karen Lee

A new tool to help policy makers assess the scalability of programs and world-first insights into the influence of price on the eating patterns of low socioeconomic groups in Australia are some of the expected outcomes of our two new PhD projects.

Karen Lee of the University of Sydney and Meron Lewis of the University of Queensland have been awarded scholarships for their projects, which were judged to have the potential to inform policy and program decision making about what works in preventing chronic disease.

Prevention Centre Deputy Director – Research, Professor Lucie Rychetnik, said the Prevention Centre was planning to offer several more PhD scholarships in coming years.

“An important priority for the Centre is to create opportunities for supporting the new generation of prevention research leaders. Two PhDs supported by the Prevention Centre were recently submitted, and another two are close to completion” she said.

“From the new round of funding we will provide several new scholarships, including Karen and Meron’s exciting work. We also foster networking and collaboration among early to mid-career researchers through regular meetings of our Research Network, and will be working with them to plan some new and exciting professional development opportunities for the coming years.”

PhD candidate Karen Lee, of the University of Sydney, will undertake a project to help policy makers, program managers and other decision makers assess which programs can and should be scaled up.

Karen will conduct a series of studies into how scalability is defined and used in Australia and will develop a practical tool that decision makers can use to assess the scalability of programs and interventions.

“The majority of research studies published in journals look at the efficacy of various programs and interventions – they still focus on randomised controlled trials, and that’s not helping policy makers,” she said.

“My project will give policy makers the evidence and resources they need around how to plan for scale up, which interventions should or should not be scaled up, and all the factors they need to take into consideration.”

The other project, by Meron Lewis of the University of Queensland, will study the price and affordability of healthy (recommended) versus current (unhealthy) diets in low socioeconomic groups in Australia.

This PhD builds on Meron’s previous work with Professor Amanda Lee to develop the Healthy Diets Australian Standardised Affordability and Pricing (ASAP) methods protocol as a standardised way of measuring and comparing the price and affordability of different diets in Australia.

She will tailor these methods for low socioeconomic groups to understand the importance of price in people’s choice of foods.

“We know that the price and affordability of food affects people’s food choices, dietary patterns and nutritional intake. It also contributes to food insecurity in Australia,” she said.

“Until now there hasn’t been good data on the cost and affordability of diets in Australia. By applying our standardised methods, we will for the first time be able to understand how important the expense of healthy food is to low socioeconomic groups, and what some effective policy responses might be.”