Dr Elizabeth Dunford - award-winning healthier food researcher

What is your job and what does it involve?

I am currently a Research Fellow and the Global Database Manager for The George Institute's Food Policy Division. My main responsibility is the development, coordination and expansion of a global, branded-food composition database that tracks the nutritional content of processed foods. The global database is used to examine how branded-food composition databases can be used to monitor changes in the nutrient composition of processed and fast foods globally.

I am also a Project Officer for the Australian Division of World Action on Salt and Health’s (AWASH) Drop the Salt! Campaign. In this position I am responsible for the development and coordination of the Australian branded food composition database that is used to monitor the sodium content of Australian processed foods. I am also the Project Lead for the FoodSwitch smartphone application.

How long have you been working at The George Institute/George Clinical?

Five years.

What attracted you to working at The George Institute/George Clinical?

I was already working in the area of nutrition but had just completed my Masters in Public Health and was keen to be involved with an organisation where I could use my new skills to improve public health nutrition in Australia.

What inspires you in the work you do and why?

The people I work with both in the offices in Australia, as well as collaborators from the 30 countries we work with in the Global Food Monitoring Group inspire me on a daily basis. However, I am also extremely passionate about the project we have built, particularly as I have been involved in it since the very beginning and can see how far we have come, and this is what inspires me to keep going.

What are your research and/or professional interests?

Increasingly around the world, in both developed and developing countries alike, people are consuming a more Western diet, consisting of a high intake of processed and fast foods. These types of food contribute to daily fat, sugar and salt intakes. Only by ensuring the food we eat is as healthy as it can be will we be able to reduce the global burden of NCDs such as diabetes, obesity and high blood pressure.

My research interests are predominantly in the area of prevention of lifestyle-related diseases, with a particular focus on cardiovascular disease and obesity prevention. My current work focuses on monitoring the nutritional composition of the food supply, both in Australia and globally.

What is your current research focus?

My current research focus relates to three broad areas:

  1. Building capacity in lower and middle income countries involved in our work in the Global Food Monitoring Group to help them monitor the nutritional composition of foods in their country or region 
  2. The expansion of our global branded food composition database to include information from as many countries as possible
  3. The expansion of the FoodSwitch smartphone application to other countries and the continual improvement to the Australian application to ensure consumers have the most up-to-date information in the food composition database that sits behind the application itself.

What are recent highlights/successes?

Recent highlights/successes for me have been the nomination of FoodSwitch for the Sustainia100 awards, the release of FoodSwitch in New Zealand and the UK, and The Food Policy Division recently being named as a WHO Collaborating Centre in Population Sodium Reduction.

What is your professional background?

I am a nutritionist and have been working in the area of public health nutrition for eight years.

What value/s of The George Institute/George Clinical do you appreciate the most and why?

I appreciate the passion and dedication that academic staff at TGI have for their work and the encouragement that my supervisors provide me on a daily basis.

Why do you enjoy working at The George Institute/George Clinical?

Aside from absolutely loving my job, in terms of The George Institute specifically, I love my colleagues and my managers – they are extremely supportive both professionally and personally, and TGI has a wonderfully flexible working environment that encourages young researchers to keep learning and keep exploring. I also love that my job allows me to travel so much.

A person I admire is … Well, particularly at this time in my life being an early career researcher, a person I really admire is my supervisor and mentor, Professor Bruce Neal.

To unwind at the end of the day I…. Like to have a glass of red wine and a good meal with friends

A saying I live by is…"Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish on its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it is stupid." - Albert Einstein

One day I hope to… Travel to every country of the world!

My first job was…. In this area, my first job was as a research assistant for the Centre for Overweight and Obesity looking at foods advertised to children. My first job ever though was working at a bakery café!

My biggest achievement so far…. Is finishing my PhD - anyone who has finished their PhD understands how much of a personal achievement that is!