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Current Postgraduate Students

Idah Chatindiara (PhD)

Title of Research Study: Optimising Food and Nutrition Intake of Older New Zealanders

Chief Supervisor: A/Prof. Carol Wham (SoFN)

Co-Supervisors: Prof. Marlena Kruger (SoFN) and Prof. Roger Hughes (SoPH)

Scholarships: Massey University College of Health Doctoral Scholarship

The older people population is the fastest growing population group in New Zealand. The latest Ministry of Health older people’s health report, states that many New Zealanders later years are lived with a disability, and the prevalence of several diseases increases with increasing age. Therefore, finding ways that promote healthy ageing is a pressing public health concern. Nutrition is a key determinant of not only health status but the ageing processes overall. However, attaining and maintaining optimum nutrition intake in older adults is a challenge; and malnutrition (undernutrition) is common in older adults. Understanding malnutrition or developing nutrition interventions in older adults is complex, as nutrition intake is influenced by several factors. Hence, use of a multidimensional approach may be helpful towards prevention and reversal of malnutrition. The overall aim of the current study is to optimise food and nutrition intake in older adults, so as to promote healthy ageing. To achieve this, the project is divided into three stages:

  1. evaluating nutrition risk and main factors influencing the nutritional status of older New Zealanders across three settings
  2. design a nutrition-related intervention, based on theoretical, quantitative and qualitative data analysis
  3. Implement a multidimensional pilot intervention that aims to optimise nutrition intake.

Shakeela Jayasinghe (PhD)

Shakeela Jayasinghe Title of Research Study: Exploring the link between taste perception, food intake and metabolic health

Chief Supervisor: Professor Bernhard Breier

Co-Supervisors: A/Prof Rozanne Kruger, Dr Daniel Walsh, Professor Matt Golding

The rise in obesity and metabolic disease over the last few decades has paralleled the increased availability and consumption of highly palatable food rich in sugar and fat. Taste has an important influence on our food choices, and variations in sweet and fat taste perception (i.e. sensitivity and preference) between individuals may influence their dietary intake. Although previous research has investigated whether individual taste sensitivity and preference is a predictor of food intake or a risk marker of metabolic health, a clear relationship between taste, food intake and body composition has not yet been determined. Recent studies have suggested that taste may be linked with endocrine factors regulating food intake and energy balance. This may provide further understanding about the relationship between the altered endocrine response in obesity and taste sensitivity and preference.

The overall goal of my PhD project is to understand the association between sweet and fat taste perception, and food intake in order to investigate the role of taste as a determinant of body composition in women between the ages of 16-45 from three different ethnicities (Māori, Pacific and NZ European). This project will add valuable information to the existing knowledge of how sweet and fat taste sensitivity and preference may contribute to nutritional status and body composition through taste associated food intake.

Sophie Kindleysides (PhD)

Sophie Kindleysides Title of Research Study: New insights into taste perception, food choice and satiety inform the design of foods for health

Chief Supervisor: Prof. Bernhard Breier (SoFN)

Co-Supervisors: A/Prof Rozanne Kruger (SoFN), Dr Kathryn Beck (SoFN)

Scholarships: Massey University College of Health Doctoral Scholarship

In New Zealand, the increasing prevalence of obesity is of major concern in both adults and children. The overall number of obese adults in New Zealand has increased to 28%, resulting in a substantial increase in health care costs (Ministry of Health, 2012). It is evident that the high level of dietary sugars and fats in the Western diet are a key driver of obesity. Given that both sweetness and fat have a powerful hedonic appeal, preferences for sweet and fatty foods are important contributors to increases in body weight and metabolic disease risk. Such diets which are high in sugar and fat contribute to an inability to match that high energy intake to expenditure.

Given that both sweetness and fat have a powerful hedonic appeal, preferences for sweet and fatty foods are important contributors to increases in body weight and metabolic disease risk. Therefore, an important contributing factor to elevated food intake is taste perception and the enjoyment of eating food, which directly impacts on metabolic health as well as social behaviour.

This PhD project aims to identify the relationship between taste, olfactory and mouthfeel perception of food using sensory testing methodology and to investigate the relationship between sensory characters and dietary intake and eating behaviour. The knowledge obtained from this PhD will elucidate the role of sensory perception in food choice and the regulation of satiety, energy balance and weight management. This knowledge will improve our understanding of satiety and help to advance our understanding of appetite regulation.

Wendy O’Brien

Title of Research Study: Physical activity behaviours of women in Aotearoa New Zealand: Physical activity as a predictor of body composition and metabolic health

Chief Supervisor: A/Prof Rozanne Kruger (SFN)

Co-Supervisors: Dr Sarah Shultz (SSE), Prof Bernhard Breier (SFN)

Scholarships: Massey University Vice-Chancellor’s Doctoral Scholarship

Regular participation in physical activity has overwhelming positive implications on long-term health and on disease prevention. Conversely, sedentary behaviour and inactivity are detrimental on a scale similar to that of smoking and obesity. Increased daily physical activity is widely recommended to improve numerous health outcomes. However, the addition of physical activity into an individual’s day must come at the expense of time spent in other activity.  In New Zealand, physical activity levels are declining, with only 47% of women being regularly physically active, meanwhile 16% of women are physically inactive.

Although survey-based subjective assessment of physical activity provides useful information on physical activity trends, objective measurement of physical activity provides detailed data on activity intensity, timing, duration and frequency. No objective assessment of physical activity has been reported exclusively in New Zealand women, and with respect to health outcomes despite variations in activity levels across New Zealand ethnicities, genders and age groups. Identification and recognition of population differences in physical activity could lead to effective population-specific physical activity recommendations.

The aim of this doctoral thesis was to objectively assess the physical activity levels and patterns of New Zealand women of three ethnicities (Maori, Pacific, European) and its implications on their body composition and metabolic health. Triaxial accelerometers were used in this cross-sectional study to objectively assess the physical activity of Maori (n=68), Pacific (n=65) and European (n=216) women over seven consecutive days.

Body composition and metabolic risk factors were also assessed. These findings will contribute to knowledge on the health consequences of physical activity behaviours of Maori, Pacific and European women and provide essential data for evidence-based physical activity recommendations. Furthermore, novel analysis predicting body composition and metabolic risk factors from the theoretical substitution of time from sedentary to physical activity might provide useful insight for simple messaging in public health recommendations on physical activity.

Nikki Renall

Title of Research Study:New pathways to obesity prevention and metabolic health: the relationship between diet and the gut microbiome    

Chief Supervisor: Professor Bernhard Breier 

Co-Supervisors: Associate Professor Rozanne Kruger, Dr Marilize Richter, Professor Gerald Tannock and Dr Lisa Te Morenga

Scholarships: Riddet Institute CoRE Scholarship

Obesity is a global health issue of epidemic proportion.  Although the causes of obesity are complex, key drivers include over-consumption of highly palatable energy-dense and nutrient-poor foods. These diets have a profound impact on the gut microbiome, which comprises the bacterial community of the bowel (microbiota) and its associated genetic endowment. New evidence suggests that microbial diversity and functionality in the gut may play a critical role in obesity by modifying energy extraction from food and influencing host energy metabolism and fat storage.

My PhD project is part of a larger study which is funded via a grant from the Health Research Council (HRC 15/273 Breier), the PROMISE Study: Predictors linking obesity and gut Microbiome.

In the PROMISE study we will characterise the gut microbiome in two populations with markedly different metabolic disease risk (Pacific and European women) and different body fat profiles (normal and obese).

My project will focus on identifying the interactions between dietary intake and eating behaviour in modifying the gut microbiome, and its impact on metabolic regulation and body fat profiles. This information will greatly advance our understanding of the aetiology of obesity and open new avenues for therapeutic targets.

Jo Slater

Title of Research Study: The gut microbiome – A new pathway to obesity prevention and metabolic health: with a focus on sleep, physical activity and dietary intake.

Chief Supervisor: Professor Bernhard Breier

Co-Supervisors: Associate Professor Leigh Signal, Professor Steve Stannard, Associate Professor Rozanne Kruger, Associate Professor Carol Wham.

Scholarships: Massey University PhD Scholarship

Obesity is a major global public health problem of increasing prevalence, and New Zealand (NZ) has one of the highest rates in the world. Despite considerable efforts to kerb rising obesity rates there has been a significant rise in obesity particularly in women, with major weight gains between the ages of 20-40 years. The long-term impact, at both the individual and public health level, for women of child-bearing age having increased adiposity, raises concern due to the association with numerous acute and chronic health issues for both themselves and their children.

Although the causes of obesity are complex, well documented, key drivers for obesity include high energy consumption in combination with low physical activity levels. Further, recent epidemiological studies also indicate an association between poor sleep duration or patterns, and increased weight gain. The link between obesity and sleep, physical or diet remains elusive, although literature is emerging suggesting gut microbiome dysbiosis is associated with reduced metabolic health.

My PhD, as part of a larger Health Research Council Grant (HRC), aims to characterise the gut microbiome in two populations and will be the first of its kind. The two population groups have markedly different metabolic disease risk (Pacific and European women) and different body fat profiles (normal and obese). Relationships between the role of sleep, physical activity and diet in modifying the gut microbiome and its impact on obesity helps to further understanding of the key drivers fostering the complex obesogenic environment. Ultimately this could lead to new avenues for therapeutic targets to reduce the prevalence of obesity.

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