Friday 11 February 2022

Dressing as a tomato and meeting the CMO - all in a day's science

Elsie Widdowson, British nutritionist
Posted by Amelia Lake, Professor of Public Health Nutrition at Teesside University and Associate Director of Fuse

In this blog on International Women's Day, Amelia tells us about the pioneering female scientist who inspired her career in nutrition science.

When I was at University studying for my degree in Human Nutrition and Dietetics in the mid 1990s our ‘food tables’ were in books – actual books that you held.

We worked out nutritional content of food using books and calculators. Now-a-days this is all done by software without the need for the hard copy of the books. The book we all had was a copy of the ‘McCance and Widdowson’ Food Tables. I still have my well thumbed copy and the book is the the basis of the modern software systems that nutritionists and food scientists use.

Although as an undergraduate I didn’t really give the names McCance and Widdowson much thought it was later on in my career, thanks to the British Nutrition Foundation and my colleagues, that I really learned about Elsie Widdowson. She was born in 1906 and died in 2000 having spent a long and productive life as a pioneering female scientist. Along with her colleague Robert McCance, Elsie Widdowson was at the forefront of the Nutrition effort after World War II.

Elsie studied Chemistry at Imperial Collage London and in 1931 completed a PhD in Chemistry also at Imperial. Elsie met Robert McCance in the kitchens at Kings College Hospital in 1933, when she was studying to become a dietitian and he a junior doctor. Here, in the hospital kitchens, began a partnership that would last for 60 years!

It was at Cambridge, where they both worked, that the book I mentioned earlier was developed: a publication pivotal to nutritional science. But it wasn’t just for the development of this book that she has my respect - it was for the pioneering work around vitamin and mineral fortification, the rehabilitation of severely starved individuals and malnourishment around the world and important work on infant diets. This was an incredible female scientist who paved the way for nutrition scientists like me.

                           My inaugural Professorial lecture - challenging the food environment

I recently spoke about today’s nutrition challenges in my inaugural Professorial lecture. Preparing for this lecture I had to reflect on the work I have been doing in the field of nutrition research starting from 1998, looking at ‘the influence of Western Food on a Traditional Diet’ in Western Sumatra Indonesia for my first degree, through to my PhD studies on longitudinal dietary change and then finding my field around Obesogenic Environments and Food Environments. Similar to the ever changing Food Environment, which I study, the field of nutrition science is ever changing - in line with our changing diets and behaviours. There remain many challenges not least around food insecurity which, according to a new report by the Food Foundation, continues to increase. The current cost of living crisis puts food and eating into the spotlight. 

One of the challenges of Nutrition Research is around communicating. Doing this clearly around the noise of misinformation about food or food products is a challenging job! Throughout the twenty-three years that I have worked in nutrition, I have spent a significant amount of time communicating. Sometimes, that involves dressing as a tomato for a public lecture to children (see picture) and sometimes that involves meeting the chair of The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee (Sir Norman Lamb) or even the Chief Medical Officer (Professor Chris Whitty). But most of the time it is about exchanging knowledge between professionals and communicating to the public about the ‘latest’ nutrition fad or ‘superfood’ (spoiler - there is no such thing as a superfood).

Dialogue is important, food is important and nutrition science has much to do. I think I am going to be kept busy in my line of work for a few more years!

The other issue I reflected on during my inaugural lecture was my career breaks (3 in total) and the fact that I have worked part time (3-days per week) since having my second son Auden in 2012. My eldest son David died from a rare disease called Alveolar Capillary Dysplasia in 2011 and, along with my husband we run a charity called The David Ashwell Foundation raising money for research into this usually fatal lung condition affecting newborns. In 2020 I was recognised by TimeWise as a Power Part-Timer. Since doing my lecture, I have received a number of emails thanking me for talking about working part-time and for acknowledging the army of helpers it requires to be a working parent.

If you want to help make a difference in people’s lives I can recommend a career in nutrition science….

#InternationalWomensDay #IWD2022 #BreakTheBias

Now that's what I call blogging 2021

Posted by Mark Welford, Fuse Communications Manager, Teesside University

Let’s all channel British novelist E.M. Forster and play a little game of Only Connect. What connects the things below?

“Yes of course, they can all be a type of list” (said in the friendly yet ever so slightly patronising manner of host Victoria Coren Mitchell)
I think it's fair to say that we all love a list. I mean, the premise of another very popular BBC gameshow is basically to list pointless stuff.

So here again (a little later than advertised) is our annual list of the most-viewed Fuse blog posts of 2021!

You'd be forgiven for thinking that this would be dominated by Covid and the pandemic as we saw in the 2020 list.

Obviously, we had our fair share of pandemic related posts. Blogs about misinformation, food insecurity, malnutrition, obesity and what children made of it all. How it impacted on work and engagement with public partners, parents, decisionmakers, practitioners, policy-makers and commissioners. How it affected our mental healthour liberties and even inspired a song and a cat-scale of wellbeing!

But as you can see from the list below it didn't dominate the top 5 chart-toppers of 2021. Perhaps a little escapism goes along way...


Katsushika Hokusai: The Great Wave off Kanagawa
5. The other third wave: a mass epidemic of very individual pain

Posted by Jack Nicholls, Lecturer in Social Work at Northumbria University

Lockdown restrictions were beginning to ease in the UK. But after the jubilation, what if you don't feel the way you think you should?

A very personal post by Jack Nicholls on the long-term mental health consequences of the pandemic, of lockdown and social restrictions, and of its easing. 

*Content/trigger warning: mental health, depression, suicidal feelings.

Page views: 938
Published: 16 April 2021.


4. Patient and Public involvement with Parents during a Pandemic: the four ‘P’ challenge

Posted by Hannah Batten, Food and Human Nutrition undergraduate student at Newcastle University. Hannah was on a placement year with the Population Health Sciences Institute, as part of the MapMe study aiming to help parents assess child weight.
Body image scales on the MapMe website are being updated for MapMe2
"Most importantly, is to say to our participants that we are extremely grateful for their time and input, particularly during these uncertain times."
Hannah tells us how she and the MapMe study team met the challenges involved in recruiting and running an online Parent Involvement Panel (PIP) to help review documents and study materials, when parents were already dealing with a global pandemic. 

Page views: 1,029
Published: 5 March 2021.


3. Should pregnancy 'be incentive enough' to quit smoking?

Posted by Susan Jones, Research Associate at Teesside University

In this blog post on #NoSmokingDay, Dr Jones explored deprivation, guilt, shame, stigma and the complex web of reasons behind smoking behaviour.

Page views: 1,155
Published: 10 March 2021.


2. Things I wish I’d known when I started my PhD… (part 1)

Posted by members of the Population Health Interventions Programme at the MRC Epidemiology Unit

Research doesn't happen overnight, avoid comparison and channel your inner Arsène Wenger ("Le Professeur"). In our second most popular blog post, the early, mid and senior career researchers at University of Cambridge share their tips for PhD survival.

Here is part 2 which interestingly received only half as many views despite including a High School Musical reference.

Page views: 1,347
Published: 4 June 2021.


1. Can Forest School inspire the next generation to be happy & healthy?

Posted by Katie Beresford, undergraduate student at Durham University

With more than 2,700 views this is our most read post of 2021 by some distance!

In it Katie explores growing up in the Lake District, embracing nature, finding school restrictive and struggling academically in her early years.

Nearly two decades later she is completing a Fuse summer internship with the NIHR School for Public Health Research and is tasked to review literature discussing the effectiveness of Forest School as a public health intervention.

Why not grab a coffee and take a walk with Katie into the woods to find out what she discovered...

Page views: 2,746
Published: 8 October 2021.


So there you have it, the top five Fuse blog posts of 2021. Congratulations to Katie who wins a rare and coveted Fuse paperweight!  

Fantastically both Katie and Hannah's blog posts were part of our Fuse blog Student Series which we launched last year! This showcases posts by students who have been challenged to write a blog as part of their studies. The authors may be new to blogging and we hope to provide a 'safe space' for the students to explore their subject and find their voice in the world of public health research. Hopefully this will encourage other students to take the plunge!

As always, many thanks to our loyal readers and fantastic contributors.

Can we do any better in 2022? If you fancy giving it a go, please find out what we are looking for and how to take part here. All contributors receive a much sought-after Fuse badge.

2. Image: Katsushika Hokusai, (CC0 1.0), via Wikimedia Commons
4. Mr. Alexander Ottesen, CC BY-SA 2.5, via Wikimedia Commons