Monash scholarship to support obesity research

Strategies that treat food as an “energy source” may be unhelpful in countering obesity because they do not relate to the way most people think about eating, according to General Sir John Monash Scholarship winner and Flinders graduate, Amy McLennan.

A graduate in languages and medical science at Flinders, Ms McLennan is now studying at Oxford University, where she is researching factors contributing to obesity.

She has been awarded one of the eight annual scholarships awarded annually by the General Sir John Monash Foundation to outstanding young Australians with the potential to be leaders in their fields to pursue postgraduate studies at the world’s leading universities. The scholarship is worth up to $150,000 over three years.

Ms McLennan is presently studying towards a masters degree in the field of medical anthropology, a discipline that examines the relationship between wider cultural factors and health. She is working in a unit dedicated to the study of obesity and the development of effective policies to counter it. The Monash Award will support the extension of her masters research into a doctorate.

With most current policy on obesity framed on a formula of individuals eating “wrong” foods and doing too little exercise, Ms McLennan said a broader understanding of obesity that extends beyond biomedical factors and takes into account the broader social, economic and political forces that shape population health is required.

“Anthropology suggests that ‘energy’ has little to do with why we consume or buy food,” she said.

“If that’s the case, and we have designed current policy interventions around a paradigm that is not based on what happens in real life, is it any wonder that they are not effective?”

Ms McLennan is focusing her research on models of societies in the South Pacific that offer a strong set of traditional cultural practices with regard to food and yet share world-wide trends towards obesity.

Oxford University Unit for Biocultural Variation and Obesity

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