Dr Tracy Schumacher
School of Medicine and Public Health
- Phone:(02) 49216259
Making healthy food choices easier
Nutrition researcher Tracy Schumacher is working to help Australians across NSW adopt lifelong healthy food choices.
“The decision that's most frequently made is the easiest one - and it’s not very often that that’s also the best one. Typically our environment is not set up for our success, which is what makes it very challenging. So what I say to people is: if you want this to happen, what do we need to put in place before that's actually going to happen?”
From teacher to student
After working for ten years as a teacher across regional Australia, Tracy enjoyed her role, but didn’t feel like it was stretching her far enough.
“So I was looking around for a new job but I really didn’t know what I should do. Then one of my old Year 12 students, who had moved on to do her degree in nutrition and dietetics, gave me a call."
“She said, ‘I’ve found it! I’ve found the degree you need to do!’”
“I looked it up and thought, ‘You’re right, I will like this!’ So I quit my job and moved to Newcastle.”
Tracy got involved with UON’s research community early on in her undergraduate degree, when she started volunteering with the Healthy Dads, Healthy Kids program with Professors Phil Morgan and Robin Callister.
Healthy habits start young
Having completed her Honours degree under the supervision of Professor Clare Collins, Clare approached Tracy about the possibility of doing a PhD.
“I knew that research was a career option, and I knew that I enjoyed it a lot, so when Clare suggested a PhD, I knew that was right for me."
“A collaboration between Professors Clare Collins, Robin Callister and Associate Professor Tracy Burrows meant a project was ready to go - it just needed someone to do it.”
“So I got lucky at the right time with the right supervisors.”
Throughout her PhD, Tracy focused on knowledge translation in the field of cardiovascular disease.
“The evidence is pretty clear as to what we need to eat - but what people are actually doing is so very different. There are so many places where it all breaks down."
“Unfortunately there isn’t any one answer - there are problems right across the spectrum. But this also gives us many opportunities to make improvements.”
Tracy was interested in finding out how and where healthy eating messages are lost or misinterpreted. By conducting interviews, food surveys and intervention trials, Tracy was able to collect data around people’s eating habits and their attitudes towards food.
Although risk of cardiovascular disease tends to be only be identified once people hit their 50s and 60s, this risk is often a consequence of a lifetime’s worth of eating behaviours.
“It starts during childhood.”
“Providing children with non-nutritious foods on a regular basis is actually setting them up for a lifetime of unhealthy food habits that will be hard to break. It also lays down the early foundations of chronic disease that won’t develop for many years to come.”
“People use food to show love and respect – but at the end of the day we're not doing ourselves or our loved ones any favours when we have those special foods reserved in the cupboards that we don’t feed ourselves.”
A rural research team
As part of her current post-doctoral fellowship, Tracy is now working alongside UON researchers and local healthcare workers in Tamworth, NSW.
Tracy will be helping with the analysis of data that’s been collected as part of ongoing community health studies. These studies have been primarily led by maternal health researcher and Director of the Gomeroi gaaynggal Arts Health and Research Programs, Associate Professor Kym Rae.
The team is looking at the impact of lifestyle choices, including nutrition, of both mothers and babies. The aim is to help to improve health outcomes and particularly, to reduce the risk of chronic disease such as heart and kidney disease.
“I’ll be using my database management skills I’ve developed throughout my PhD. There is a lot of data that we need to start pulling together so we can start comparing different outcomes. Our ultimate research aim is to contribute to "close the gap" – to reduce the health inequalities in Australia for Aboriginal people.”
As well as getting on board with these existing projects, Tracy is hoping to set up some new studies, focusing on the differences in nutritional choices between rural and urban populations.
“People in rural communities don’t have the same access and range of choice in health services. I’d like to look at what can be done to make better lifestyle choices easier for people, particularly nutritional ones.”
Tracy’s move to Tamworth is one of a number of steps UON is taking to build their research capacity in rural Australia.
“Right now, rural people are under-represented in research. There is more we can do to address the issues that this population faces. Rural communities should be able to benefit from research as well as those in urban areas.”
January 6, 2014
A nutrition research program called 'Love your Food, Love Your Heart, Love Your Family', which helped improve the diets of families with a history of heart disease or stroke, is now set to focus on individuals with high cholesterol levels.
October 15, 2013
University of Newcastle researchers are helping families with a history of cardiovascular disease to become 'heart smart' in a bid to lower their risk factors for heart attack or stroke.
Dr Tracy Schumacher
School of Medicine and Public Health
Faculty of Health and Medicine
Callaghan, NSW 2308