Kristina Petersen: helping people choose healthier foods

Meet Dr Kristina Petersen, Post-doctoral Research Fellow working in our Food Policy team. 

How long have you been working at The George Institute?

Since July 2015.

What attracted you to working at The George Institute?

Many world leaders in health and medical research work at The George Institute so I thought it would be a great place to be as an early career researcher. I was also drawn to The George Institute because of the high quality research which has a direct impact on human health. 

What are you currently working on?

My current work is very salt focused. I am looking at developing better methods to measure and monitor changes in population salt intake. We are also about to start a trial investigating whether a smartphone app (SaltSwitch) can help people with hypertension to identify and purchase lower salt food products.

What difference will this make to healthcare and why?

Excess salt consumption increases blood pressure which is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Therefore we need strategies to reduce salt intake especially in populations at high risk of cardiovascular disease. Smartphone applications provide a unique opportunity to reach a huge number of people and in SaltSwitch we will be looking at whether apps influence purchasing behaviour. In addition to salt reduction efforts we also need low-cost, practical ways to measure population salt intake to improve surveillance. Having greater knowledge about population salt intake will enable salt reduction strategies to be targeted to specific areas with high salt consumption. It will also enable the effectiveness of public health campaigns and salt reduction strategies to be quantified.

What is one thing people can do to eat healthier?

Eat more fresh fruits and vegetables.

Why is a healthy food environment so important?

The food environment has a huge influence on the food choices that we make every day. If healthy food choices are easily accessible and convenient it is more likely that people will choose them. We are all busy and don’t have a lot of time to spend shopping, preparing and cooking meals. Therefore we need to be surrounded by a food supply abundant in fresh affordable produce and packaged foods which are not high in salt, saturated fat, sugar and excess energy.

What is a recent career highlight?  

The recent report we released about the energy content of fast food items which received a lot of media attention and got people talking about how much energy is in popular lunch menu items. It is generally acknowledged that fast food is unhealthy but this report really highlighted how energy dense these items are by showing the number of minutes, or hours in many cases of exercise are required to burn off these foods. And hopefully encouraged everyone to think about the lunch choices they are making,  

What is your professional background?

I am a Dietitian and have been working in nutrition research for the last 5 years.

To explain to people what I do I say….

I am a research dietitian and I look at ways we can improve dietary choices and help people to choose healthier foods to reduce the risk of disease.

My biggest achievement so far…

Completing my PhD.