For University of Tasmania’s Professor Andrew Hills, recent recognition as a national leader in obesity research is a culmination of many years of work and achievements.
Associate Dean, Global and Professor of Sports and Exercise Science, Professor Hills was included in the The Australian newspaper’s Research The Stars of 2018 publication alongside national researchers from 250 fields.
Field leaders were selected based on the number of papers published in the Top 20 journals in each field.
Professor Hills said the listing was testament to the long-term research efforts of many people.
"The recognition of my national leadership in the field of obesity was overwhelming, and not only recognition of my personal effort but that of many dedicated colleagues including over 35 PhD scholars and a raft of Postdoctoral Fellows who have worked with me," he said.
Professor Hills said it was also a delight to receive this accolade as the University’s College of Health and Medicine consolidated its research flagships, which included the field of obesity.
An international obesity expert who has made major global contributions in the field, Professor Hills joined the University of Tasmania’s School of Health Sciences in 2016.
Professor Hills has also worked extensively in maternal health research, targeting the improvement of the health status of young women prior to conception and during pregnancy - an area he strongly believes will be at the helm of making changes for the next generation.
If we don’t encourage and support adolescent girls to be healthier, then they are going to be behind health-wise even before they start a family.
“This will be one of the main set of contributing factors for influencing a change in the next generation.”
Most recently Professor Hills’ research and global collaborations have resulted in the publication of a series of three papers in the prestigious The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology focussing on the prevention and management of obesity and type 2 diabetes: Epidemiology and determinants of type 2 diabetes in south Asia; Clinical management of type 2 diabetes in south Asia and Public health and health systems: implications for the prevention and management of type 2 diabetes in south Asia
While malnutrition is often associated with health issues in developing countries, research by Professor Hills and his team shows a rapidly escalating issue of overnutrition, obesity and type 2 diabetes – particularly in countries such as India which he said is often referred to as the ‘diabetes capital of the world.’
Globally there’s been a massive nutrition and physical activity transition whereby people in low- and middle-income countries, including populous nations such as India and China, are facing a tsunami of health issues.
“The wider availability of food, particularly of poor food, and the decrease of physical activity due to mechanisation, urbanisation and technology are the main drivers leading to higher levels of people with obesity and associated health issues including type 2 diabetes.”
“We have a major problem with obesity and type 2 diabetes in the West, but the problem is significantly greater in places like south Asia because the population is massive, so even a small proportion of that population affected means there is a huge public health problem.”
A broad and global research outlook and effort is what Professor Hills says will be the key to addressing such health issues locally and internationally, into the future.
This ranges from a strong focus on cross disciplinary research at the University of Tasmania, to working with other universities and agencies locally, nationally and internationally.
Not enough people have the knowledge and understanding in the area to make a difference, which signifies that we need collectively to do so much more.
In childhood and maternal health for example, I am passionate about working with early childhood providers as we must train adults and children to take more responsibility for health issues,” he said.
We aim to educate more students and health professionals regarding the importance of nutrition and exercise to health, all have an important role to play.
Professor Hills said it was increasingly important for Universities and funding agencies to take a more collaborative approach and develop a united research front to combat the major health issues our world is facing.
“While some of the health issues we are facing are huge, a gathering of efforts, of minds and interest means there’s a greater chance of something more productive occurring on a larger scale,” Professor Hills said.
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