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Anna Fletcher

Senior Research Officer, Collaboration for Applied Research and Evaluation, Telethon Institute for Child Health Research

According to my parents, I showed a particularly keen interest in food from a young age.  To start with, around the age of five, I ate so many carrots that my skin showed the tell-tale signs of carotenaemia; one of the more tangible (and benign) examples of the effect your diet can have on your body! As I grew older I became more fascinated by human physiology (and pathophysiology), how this related to people’s eating patterns and how these were ultimately established. This interest persisted through senior school and the natural progression was to enrol in Nutrition at Curtin.

The Nutrition and Dietetics Courses at Curtin offered me a robust platform to pursue my career in Dietetics and research. The lecturers’ wealth of knowledge and experience, their real desire for us to achieve our study goals and their attention to the transition from studying to the reality of the workforce are aspects of the course that I valued, among many others.

I was fortunate to have been employed immediately following my student clinical placement at King Edward Memorial Hospital (KEMH) as a Clinical Dietitian. Here began my interest in maternal and child health and the fetal/developmental origins of health and disease under the mentorship of Dietitians Anne Rae and Pushpa Sivakumar. I have remained ‘on the books’ at KEMH whilst being lucky enough to also pursue my interest in research.

I started my research career working on an award-winning childhood obesity prevention project with the Child Health Promotion Research Centre at Edith Cowan University. This involved extensive stakeholder consultation and the development of perinatal, parent-focussed healthy lifestyle information for the Ngala website along with an accompanying Smartphone app’.

I am now the manager of a research project involving the development and trial of a new lifestyle-focussed group model of maternity care for women who enter pregnancy with a Body Mass Index classifying them as obese. This is a research project funded by the Department of Health and is a collaboration between The Telethon Institute for Child Health Research and the Women and Newborn Health Service. The project aims to develop a programme that encourages obese expectant mothers to adopt lifestyles that will improve their health, minimise pregnancy weight gain, reduce the clinical risks for themselves and their babies and empower them to build a healthy lifestyle and environment for their families.

For this project I have developed, with a research midwife, the eight session, evidence-based programme content, a participant guide and facilitator guide. We had the guidance of a consumer reference group (women from the target group) and the project steering committee which includes Dr Yvonne Hauck (Professor of Midwifery at Curtin). To date we have trialled the programme at KEMH with some promising results.

Next on the agenda is a multi-site feasibility pilot and hopefully followed by an efficacy trial. If the programme makes a real difference to the health outcomes for women and their babies it may then be offered at a number of maternity health centres.

It has been quite fascinating to reflect on my journey for the purpose of this article. I could never have predicted that I’d end up conducting research surrounded by inspiring people. The Nutrition and Dietetics courses equip you with skills that can be applied to a very diverse range of workplaces and tasks. My main piece of advice for current students is to keep an open mind – detours from the obvious pathway can hold some really exciting and fulfilling results.

Anna Fletcher