2017 Travel Grant
I remember the moment when I decided I wanted to work towards a career in nutrition. I was 14 years old and listening to my high school Food Technology teacher talk about food and nutrients, and their relationship with health. I thought how incredible it would be if I could make a career out of something that I loved learning about! It wasn’t until I was 21 and studying Nutrition and Dietetics at University that I realised it was possible to have a career in nutrition and health research. For me, research is about asking difficult questions, solving problems, pushing ‘boundaries’ and finding new ways to empower people to improve their quality of life and prevent disease.
At the end of my research career, I want to look back and see that my research has positively influenced the way that women receive health services and support around the life stage of pregnancy (e.g. before, during and after pregnancy). Personally, I think that all women at this life stage should have access to an Accredited Practising Dietitian and exercise specialists to provide them with the individualised advice, skills, resources and support to develop (or maintain) healthy lifestyle behaviours. I believe that protecting the health of women during pregnancy is a unique opportunity to optimise the health of two generations at the same time.
Dr Jenna Hollis is an Early Career Researcher and dietitian with a passion for improving women’s and children’s health. She completed a Bachelor of Nutrition and Dietetics (Honours I) in 2009, and a PhD in 2014 through the University of Newcastle. Following her PhD, she moved to the UK to broaden her research experience, skills and collaborations, taking postdoctoral research positions at the Rowett Institute of Nutrition and Health (University of Aberdeen, Scotland) and Medical Research Centre Lifecourse Epidemiology Unit (University of Southampton, England).
In 2015, Dr Hollis secured an international Endeavour Research Fellowship through the Australian Government Department of Education and Training to investigate predictors of maternal and child health using a preconception birth cohort (Southampton Women’s Survey) at the Medical Research Council Lifecourse Epidemiology Unit. Her research investigates modifiable maternal health behaviours around the life stage of pregnancy (eg obesity, gestational weight gain, eating habits, physical activity, alcohol, smoking, breastfeeding) associated with an increased risk of pregnancy/birth complications, obesity and chronic disease in women and their children. The findings from her research will help researchers, policy makers and health professionals to develop more targeted recommendations and programs to support ‘expecting’ mothers during pregnancy, and for women and their children after pregnancy.
In November 2016, Dr Hollis returned to Australia to commence a Government Health position (Project Officer) at Hunter New England Population Health in Newcastle. In this position, she is gaining expertise and skills in implementation science and conducting research within the community through an adolescent physical activity intervention (Physical Activity 4 Every1; PA4E1) and a Maternal Alcohol Study to improve health practitioner provision of alcohol support during pregnancy. Dr Hollis continues to collaborate with researchers at the University of Newcastle, where she is a Conjoint Lecturer, and the University of Southampton where she is a Visiting Research Fellow.
Dr Hollis has published numerous papers in international journals and presented at both national and international conferences. Her leadership skills have been recognised through invitations to attend the European Nutrition Leadership Platform in 2015 and the Australian Academy of Science Theo Murphy’s High Flyer Think Tank in 2017 on Rethinking Food and Nutrition Science. She was awarded the International Journal of Behavioural Nutrition and Physical Activity (IJBNPA) Peer Reviewer of the Year Award in 2017, and invited to the Editorial Board of the IJBNPA Journal. She is also a committee member of the International Society of Behavioural Nutrition and Physical Activity (ISBNPA) Network of Early Career Research and Student group, where she assists in coordinating regular webinars, conference workshops and e-communications to support the career development of ECR’s and students internationally. She also regularly supervises and mentor’s undergraduate, honours, masters and PhD students.
There is a substantial amount of evidence of what is known to improve maternal and child health outcomes in pregnancy and the long term. But the challenge is translating, implementing, and scaling-up the evidence to routine antenatal care that will actually benefit the community. I want to develop and test a practice-change intervention to support health professionals to have ‘sensitive’ conversations with women about recommended weight gain, healthy eating and physical activity in pregnancy.
A key aspect of this is developing collaborations with leading international researchers with similar research interests. I believe we have a greater opportunity to advance our knowledge and ultimately improve the health of women and children, by learning from each other and moving the field forward as a team, rather than working independently and ‘reinventing the wheel’ so to speak. In the long term, I want to be recognised internationally as an expert and advocate for maternal and child health.