Dr Naomi Lee
School of Medicine and Public Health
Cut-through health messages for young adults
Dr Lee Ashton's research in the areas of health and nutrition is helping to deliver critical information to a notoriously hard-to-reach group: young Australian adults.
Dr Lee Ashton and his research team are developing targeted digital tools, including the No Money, No Time website, to help debunk damaging diet myths and get research-informed health and nutrition messages into the hands of young Australians—especially young men.
Lee shares that this age range, between 18 and 25 years, is often when positive diet and health habits give way under key transitions, busy schedules and responsibilities, leading to poor health behaviours that can hang around for a lifetime.
“We know from research that positive (and negative) health behaviours established during this transition to adulthood persist through to later life, so it’s absolutely imperative to make those positive changes while people are still young”.
Lee explains that by delivering timely nutrition information to young people, the team’s innovative digital tools have the potential to enhance this group’s long-term health, which in turn, could dramatically reduce healthcare costs, premature mortality and the prevalence of chronic diseases.
“There is a lot of dietary misinformation out there and it’s difficult to provide evidence-based health and nutrition information that appeals to this age group. By providing credible advice, we hope to help Australians make long-term positive changes to their health and diet.”
No money, no time
Lee’s ultimate goal is to help connect more young people with the information they need to stay fit and healthy, and they do this in a variety of ways. Over the past couple of years, his team has run a massive online open course (MOOC) called the Science of Weight Loss: Dispelling Diet Myths, which has seen incredibly positive engagement from a national and global audience.
“The course has attracted more than 57,000 students from over 180 countries.”
More recently, Lee and his team developed a novel healthy eating website called No Money, No Time, which received support from partners nib foundation. The website has involved experts from a range of disciplines such as specialists in User-Experience (UX), digital health, marketing and science communication. The cross-disciplinary team worked together to turn complex research data into easily digestible diet information for busy young people who are often managing competing family and career responsibilities, turning healthy eating habits into an afterthought.
“Diet has a direct impact on most of the leading causes of death worldwide. Yet, 98 per cent of 18 to 24-year-olds in Australia fail to meet their daily fruit and vegetable requirements, and over a third of their diet comes from discretionary ‘junk’ foods.
“As a result, young adults have the highest rate of weight gain compared with any other adult age group, with an average of one kilogram gained per year from early adulthood to middle-age.”
No Money, No Time directly acknowledges the dual challenges of limited time and money—the hallmarks of this life stage—to deliver more relevant and practical information for young Australians. The website includes meal hacks and quick, cheap and healthy meal ideas, which can be easily filtered by available kitchen equipment. It also tailors content based on relevant motivators, such as sports performance targets or maintaining a healthy weight. The audience’s most common questions are addressed by experts, and users have their own personal dashboard on the website to suit their diet goals.
An embedded dietary assessment tool on the site, The Healthy Eating Quiz, rates how healthy an individual’s eating habits are in comparison to dietary guidelines and provides a personalised feedback report to help identify areas in their diet for improvement.
An ear to the ground
No Money, No Time is informed by young people themselves—their preferences, challenges and motivators—to help overcome stubborn obstacles that prevent behavioural change. The website has the software ‘Hotjar’ installed on the site so users can provide feedback, allowing the website to be continually improve and tailored, and to inform future projects.
The No Money, No Time website also draws learning from Lee’s PhD work, The HEYMAN program, which developed a pilot healthy lifestyle program for young men in the Hunter and showed strong improvements across their diets, activity levels, cholesterol levels and mental health over a three-month period.
“I am always excited to see a program I have developed or been involved with make a difference to the health behaviours of people using it.”
Already, the No Money, No Time website has garnered more than 25,000 user engagements and over 12,000 account sign-ups. On this platform and elsewhere, Lee is steadily increasing his reach and paving the way for better health among young adults across Australia.
“Knowing that the work we are doing is helping people to make long-term positive changes to their health and helping to reduce the risk of preventable chronic diseases later in life—that’s what makes it all worthwhile.”
All the colours of childhood
Associate Professor I-Fang Lee’s intercultural research is scrutinising and challenging our contemporary construction of what consists an ‘ideal’ child and childhood, revealing new perspectives that can strengthen early childhood education pedagogy.
What does society consider a ‘normal’ child and why? How do modern educational policies disadvantage children who fall outside this cultural idea of ‘normal’? In her research, Associate Professor I-Fang Lee doesn’t shy away from challenging the status quo if it means creating better support for our youngest community members.
“My research trajectories and scholarly interests have focused on contemporary issues relating to equity and justice in the field of early childhood care and education. In my work, I have continued to ask critical questions and explore layers of contemporary childhoods.”
By critically examining these accepted narratives across cultures—particularly as they relate to Asian childhoods—I-Fang hopes to shift the way we see children within society and create more appropriate and inclusive early schooling support.
“I take a ‘hard’ and ‘different’ look at what is taken for granted in research, policy, curriculum and pedagogical practices related to childhoods, families and programs.
“For me, it is important to employ critical perspectives to integrate the effects of the dominant construction of, and about, children and their lifeworlds.
“Critical theoretical lenses enable us to re-think and act with inclusivity toward social justice for greater equality and equity in and across global and local contexts.”
Inclusive and holistic education
I-Fang’s research is tackling some of the most pervasive challenges in the field of early childhood education and care (ECEC), including an alarming trend of commoditising children’s educations and futures.
“ECEC has been rationalised as a great social investment for all children, which promises to yield future success—both social and personal advancements. While this thread of economic reasoning has effectively promoted the importance of ECEC, it has also dangerously legitimatised the commodification of education globally and locally.
“As ECEC has been commodified, issues of affordability, accessibility and accountability have become of critical importance with political, social, cultural and educational dimensions. For instance, whose children can afford quality ECEC? How do we define what constitutes quality ECEC programs?
“Without asking such questions, we may be perpetuating the status quo and further marginalising already disadvantaged groups of children. These critical questions allow us to unpack, as well as address, challenges relating to inclusion and exclusion in early childhood education for greater equity and equality.”
I-Fang also identifies the trend of ‘schoolification’ as a significant challenge for childhood care and education within today’s global political economy. She explains that there is increasing pressure on early learning centres to focus heavily on preparing children for primary school—and this can come with a risk of compromising the provision of holistic and age-appropriate care.
“The making of ‘miniature students’ in preschool years is changing the landscape of teaching and learning in the early years. What’s important in ECEC is a holistic approach to support children’s belonging, being and becoming in their growth and wellbeing.
“As much as we advocate for the importance of play in early childhood education, over-emphasis on measurable learning outcomes in early literacy and numeracy can be problematic. It changes children’s contemporary schooling experience by reducing it to academic performance and achievement. Children’s agency and voice can become lost through the schooling process.”
Creating local and global impact
I-Fang’s academic journey has spanned the USA, Hong Kong, Singapore and Australia, where she has been involved in developing and implementing several international projects in collaboration with global scholars.
“At the international level, I have been participating and leading research projects that contribute to carving out a space to support ongoing critical discussions relating to childhoods.”
I-Fang has also contributed to global research progress and knowledge exchange through her roles as co-editor and associate editors for two international journals: Global Studies of Childhood and International Critical Childhood Policy Studies Journal.
While I-Fang is passionate about making a global impact, her work is also creating change at national and local levels. Most recently, she has worked as chief investigator for a multi-year, multi-site Australian Research Council Discovery Project: Global Childhoods in the Asian Century: Connecting Policy, Educational Experiences and Everyday Lifeworlds of Children in Australia, Hong Kong and Singapore.
“This project explores and investigates connections between policy contexts, school experiences and children's everyday activities to enable policy makers, educators and parents to provide improved learning opportunities in children's lives.
“This work contributes a holistic understanding of children’s lifeworlds in schools and their homes across different cultural settings to better understand the constructions of childhoods and studenthoods.”
Empowering early childhood teachers
I-Fang is also shaping the future of early childhood learning through her teaching roles with the University, where she is heavily involved in designing and delivering high-quality courses grounded in research.
I-Fang supervises several higher research students, is the course coordinator for several undergraduate and master courses and holds the role of program convenor for the Bachelor of Teaching (Early Childhood/Primary) (Honours) and Bachelor of Education (Early Childhood/Primary) programs. Every year, I-Fang facilitates intercultural learning by leading multiple New Colombo Plan Mobility Projects with the University, providing students with the opportunity to learn overseas.
While empowering the next generation of early childhood teachers, I-Fang also partners with local centres to support current practice. In recent years, I-Fang has built a strong relationship with the Early Learning Working Party at the Maitland-Newcastle Catholic Diocese School Office where she offers critical perspectives to support and advocate for children’s rights to play in school settings.
“This standpoint on the importance of play and its positive implications for education and wellbeing has been well recognised as one of the key themes in the Early Learning Policy within the Maitland-Newcastle Catholic Schools.”
Working alongside early learning teachers is a career highlight for I-Fang. She revels in seeing how research is starting to inform practice, empowering teachers to question misguided practice and advocate for children’s rights on a day-to-day basis.
“One of the proud moments that keeps me going in the field of early childhood education and care is seeing how early childhood educators and teachers (both pre-service and in-service) are beginning to ask critical questions in their daily practices to rethink why they did what they did in the classrooms with children.”
“This means that my work has the capacity to create impact for teachers, working with them to unpack dominant narratives in education. I believe if we don’t question and challenge the taken-for-granted ‘truth’ in our education settings, we are providing a mis-education for all children.”
Associate Professor I-Fang Lee’s intercultural research is scrutinising and challenging our contemporary construction of what consists an ‘ideal’ child and childhood, revealing new perspectives that can strengthen early childhood education pedagogy.What does society consider a ‘normal’ child and why? How…
Keeping men healthier
Keeping men healthier for longer will not only improve the quality of life for men as they age, but also save healthcare providers billions of dollars.
Leading the way for reproductive and male health research is Professor Lee Smith who joined the University of Newcastle in 2017 as Pro Vice-Chancellor for the Faculty of Science after more than a decade at the University of Edinburgh.
Professor Smith, who has an impressive record as an international research innovator in reproductive genetics and endocrinology, is leading a team of University of Newcastle researchers working to understand how testosterone is produced by the body and how it works to promote all aspects of male health.
Testis control of androgen production
“Testosterone is well known for its role in male development, puberty and male fertility, but recent research has identified a much wider range of roles that combine to promote male health.
“Low testosterone is associated with chronic conditions such as diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease, and age-related conditions such as frailty, osteoporosis, and muscle-wasting. It has also been linked to an increased risk of early death.
“Testosterone replacement therapy can provide significant benefits to men with low testosterone. Our team is working to leverage this knowledge to develop novel therapies to keep men healthier for longer,” Professor Smith said.
With obesity, ill-health and poor lifestyle habits prevalent in today’s society, Professor Smith hopes that by understanding the complexity of testosterone and cell systems, he’ll be able to develop clinical therapies to help reduce these health issues in men.
“95 per cent of testosterone in men is produced by a single type of cell present only inside the testes – the Leydig cells. Our research focusses on understanding how these cells work, and in particular, how genes and hormones control the production of testosterone by these cells.
“We are working to understand the many cell-types, genes and hormones interacting to both positively and negatively regulate testosterone production, and a myriad of different responses to testosterone levels throughout the body.
“Our novel and unique transgenic approaches are accelerating our understanding towards clinical therapies.
“We can activate or deactivate specific genes inside individual cell-types, track cells throughout development, or remove part or all of an individual cell-type complete. This is advancing the development of viral gene therapy technologies which deliver new genes to repair damage to the system.
“Our fundamental goal is to understand this system sufficiently to support the development of new therapeutic options for men affected by the multitude of widespread chronic conditions,” he said.
Making new discoveries
With a goal of helping improves lives through his research, Professor Smith is working towards a single treatment approach which will promote long-term health.
“The possibility that a single injection by a GP can improve a man’s health for many years is exciting.
“Our work is taking the most fundamental understanding of knowledge at a genetic and molecular level and turning this into therapies that have the potential to impact millions of lives.
“This knowledge has application in areas such as male development, testis and prostate cancer, male fertility, and chronic clinical conditions such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease.
“Our research goals focus on the future management of healthy ageing in men. Keeping men healthier for longer will not only improve the quality of life for men as they age, but also provide billions of dollars of savings for healthcare providers that can be invested where needed,” he said.
Professor Smith is still driven to make new discoveries – excited for what is next to come.
“Discovery is the most exciting aspect of research. I have on many occasions been fortunate enough – for a brief period of time – to be the only person ever to know that the world works in a certain way. That never gets old!”
Making great spaces and places
Putting the needs of end-users above all else, Dr Juhyun Lee is seeking to ensure designs for the built environment are coherent, clear and shareable.
Cities are fascinating. Young and old, contemporary and heritage-listed, rich and poor, breathtakingly beautiful and unattractively bleak, they are all a result of human action, shrewdly embodying local, national and global flows in politics, the economy and society. Tightly knotted and testifying to the intersections of public policy, art and urban governance, each is representative of transformation too. Dr Juhyun Lee, an authority on architectural planning, is untangling their multiple, multilayered and interdependent influences through his research.
“I’m advancing contextual design,” he elaborates.
“It was introduced in the late 1990s and works on the proviso that being knowledgeable about users – their fundamental intents, desires and drivers – will lead to better final products.”
“The process can be more widely applied to provide a formal understanding of designers’ decisions in the field as well.”
“Our aim is to figure out why and how they did what they did, and predict if, why and how they’ll do the same again.”
Passionate and pioneering, Juhyun is also making significant contributions to three other related areas, including design cognition, design analysis and architectural/design computing.
“The former refers to the study of human information processing in design using different theoretical and empirical models,” he explains.
“The second and third refer to physical, real-world surroundings in which some elements are supplemented by digital sensory input and computing, such as sound, video, graphics or contextual data.”
Helping out at home
Juhyun’s research career began in 2006, when he undertook a PhD in Housing and Interior Design at Yonsei University in his native South Korea. Chiefly focused on merging physical and virtual design factors into an embodied environment, the four-year probe sought to craft and propose consensual strategic planning schemes for mixed-use development to support urban regeneration in Seoul.
“These were based on a literature review and questionnaire survey data,” the bilinguist recalls.
“The formal framework consists of four methodological stages – database development, categorisation, factor analysis and correlation.”
“It serves as a viable reference for policymakers and developers.”
Relocating to the Centre for Human Ecology at Kyunghee University after receiving his award in 2010, Juhyun looked to take the reins on another research assignment – this time on an “augmented reality-based design system.”
“This work stemmed from our realisation of the potential of smart phones to deliver powerful networking and mobility,” he shares.
“These devices have similarly opened up opportunities to expand mixed reality (MR), which commonly overlaps computer-generated images and real images in the physical world.”
“We approached the managers of several leading MR companies in South Korea and asked them about their MR applications, such as iNeedCoffee and Ovjet, which overcame the limitations of time and place to communicate with mobile users through the location of their favourites.”
“We also introduced the concept of context immersion, which suggests the experience of owning and operating a smart phone does not have to be confined to the phone’s small display screen.”
“Instead, smart phones can allow people to be nomadic and autonomous and connect with many others simultaneously.”
A new home
Invited to the University of Newcastle as a visiting academic in early 2011, Juhyun was appointed to a full-time research position in 2012. Hitting the ground running, the senior lecturer set up a sensory design laboratory within the Centre for Interdisciplinary Built Environment Research in 2013, and collaborated with Professor Michael Ostwald on a grammatical and syntactical study of architecture in the Hunter in 2014.
“We wanted to give both practicing professionals and our undergraduate students an insight into the discipline,” he comments.
“The objective was to show them different ways of producing and assessing design variations in a number of contexts.”
From 2014 Juhyun has invested in a project entitled ‘Multicultural design communication in architectural design’ as well.
Awarded an Innovation Grant from the Office of Teaching and Learning in 2016, Juhyun reveals that he “will be developing pedagogical solutions to the linguistic and cultural barriers in design education.”
“I will undertake the first inquiry into the relationship between language and design cognition too.”
“My overarching goal is to support efficient and sustainable interactions between people in design teams, particularly those in the Asia Pacific region.”