Professor Amanda Lee is a leading academic and practitioner in nutrition, obesity, and chronic disease prevention, with a special interest in public health policy, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health, and healthy, equitable and sustainable food systems
Professor Lee has worked as a Chief Investigator with the Prevention Centre since its establishment in 2013, where she has completed three major projects, including the development of the Healthy Diets ASAP (Australian Standardised Affordability and Price) protocol. She is currently leading a further two projects: Diet and chronic disease prevention: Supporting implementation of priority actions in the food and nutrition system and Improving Aboriginal food security and dietary intake: Approaches for remote and urban communities.
“The main focus of my work has been to influence both policy and practice for the whole population. Our team’s work with Indigenous organisations is focussed on co-design and invited collaboration to help generate evidence with communities,” said Professor Lee.
“For example, I’ve recently been asked by the Ngaanyatjarra Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Womens’ Council to work with them on an expanded food security project in remote areas, funded by the Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF). The decision-making remains with the communities, building on vast local knowledge and ensuring data sovereignty,” said Professor Lee.
Professor Lee’s first experience working in health was at Mildura Hospital, serendipitously, after the funding for a graduate dietetic position in Melbourne fell through.
“When the workload expanded a directive came through that I was only to see clients from Victoria, not New South Wales, so the under-serviced Aboriginal community across the border invited me to work with them at the weekend,” she said.
This was a turning point, introducing Professor Lee to preventive health, when she saw, first-hand, the impacts of policy, community strengths, and socioeconomic determinants on diet-related health.
She went on to work in the Northern Territory, including for the people of Minjilang on Croker Island who demonstrated – supported by objective biomedical measures – that rapid and sustained improvements in diet, nutrition and health are possible in remote communities.
“This was a very formative experience, and is the inspiration for all my research and work,” said Professor Lee.
For over a decade, Professor Lee was Director of Nutrition and Physical Activity for Queensland Health, learning more about health policy and practice from inside the system. She was also exposed to factors influencing decision-making as Chair of the NHMRC’s Dietary Guidelines Working Committee and Infant Feeding Guidelines Sub-Committee from 2008 to 2013, among other more recent appointments, such as lead of the food price and affordability module for the International Network for Food and Obesity/NCD Research, Monitoring and Action Support (INFORMAS).
Professor Lee is now Professor of Public Health Policy in the School of Public Health at The University of Queensland, where she is the Head of the Division of Health Promotion and Equity, teaches public health practice, and is a Chief investigator on research programs totalling more than $A22 million.
Professor Lee’s impact is significant; she has published close to 70 quality, peer-reviewed journal articles and over 60 reports and book chapters and is frequently invited to deliver keynote and plenary presentations at conferences, including the International Conference on Public Health for Tropical and Coastal Development, Indonesia, and the first African Food Environment Research Network Initiative, virtually due to COVID restrictions this year.
When not teaching and leading her research projects, Professor Lee enjoys travel (she lived in Japan for four years when her two daughters were very young), bushwalking, gardening and reading, and spending time with her family and friends.
“I have worked with and learned from the most incredible people in my career – including Annie Bonson (Bailey), Daisy Yarrmir, Suzanne Bryce, Professor John Matthews, Professor Kerin O’Dea, Dr Rosemary Stanton, Dr John Scott and Professor Colin Binns – many are still my close friends, collaborators and mentors,” said Professor Lee.
Her current roles mean that she has been able to advocate strongly for women and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in research and academia, supporting several worthy recipients for successful appointment and promotion, and mentoring many others over the past few years.
“I feel enormously privileged to have been able to work in public health nutrition – which was only a fledgling field when I first graduated. I’ve seen the value of ‘empowering’ – oft-used, I know – people to reach their potential. But as a scholarship recipient and the first in my family to go to university, I’m keen to pass on the wonderful opportunities and support I’ve enjoyed to others. The pillars of equity and sustainability are the foundation for our, and the planet’s, health and wellbeing.”
Professor Lee will be one of the first guest presenters in our new masterclass series, PreventionWorks LIVE.