Associate Professor Jennifer O’Dea is a nutritionist and health educator with a special interest in child and adolescent health and nutrition. She is involved in body image research and the prevention of eating disorders and child obesity.
She is the author of Positive Food for Kids and Childhood Obesity Prevention: International Research, Controversies and Interventions which was recently published in the United Kingdom, United States and Australia. She is also the editor of a new book titled Current Issues and Controversies in School and Community Health, Sport and Physical Education, soon to be published.
Recent research from Associate Professor O’Dea’s group of collaborative researchers and students includes a large national study titled “Youth Cultures of Eating”, which surveyed 5000 schoolchildren in 2000 and 9000 schoolchildren in 2006. It focused on their eating habits and their knowledge, beliefs and attitudes about food, weight and health. This large cross- sectional study will be conducted again in 2012 and is intended to report on any recent changes in eating habits, body image, eating disorders and weight status. In particular, the study will examine these variables by gender, socioeconomic status and cultural background. An additional interesting feature of the new study will be the investigation of children's weight and health issues in conjunction with their social networks.
Associate Professor O’Dea is also conducting a five-year cohort study of children and adolescents looking at nutrition, health, weight, growth, literacy and numeracy. Recent findings suggest an important role for the nutritional quality of breakfast in the prediction of children's academic outcomes, in addition to the known predictors of parental education and social status. She is also conducting research on trainee PE teachers and their knowledge, beliefs and attitudes about food, nutrition, exercise and weight. This research is particularly relevant to the aims of the new centre as she is collating data on the prevalence of obesity as well as knowledge, belief and attitudes about obesity.
Jennifer O'Dea on the new centre
Associate Professor O’Dea believes the centre is a very welcome advance in how to look at modern health issues in the way that its approach is all-encompassing and innovative. Her research over several decades and the research of others highlight the clear influence of social status, income, education and ethnicity on the risk of obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer.
If a person's risk of these illnesses is determined by social factors, then she is convinced that the prevention and cure of such pernicious problems also lies in manipulating these broader all-encompassing social factors, which is the new focus of the new centre.