Next-gen research leaders win prestigious Tall Poppy Awards

Two Deakin University health researchers have taken out awards for their research on the role of lifestyle in mental and heart health, and obesity prevention in early childhood respectively.

Each year, the Australian Institute of Policy and Science (AIPS) honours up-and-coming scientists who combine world-class research with a passionate commitment to communicating science.

Associate Professor Adrienne O’Neil and Professor Kylie Hesketh have been recognised with 2021 Victorian Young Tall Poppy Awards for their innovative, high community impact research.

Deakin’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor Research Alfred Deakin Professor Julie Owens said the awards recognised the researchers as leading experts, who are set to become next-gen leaders in their fields.

“Deakin is delighted to congratulate A/Prof O’Neil and Professor Hesketh on this outstanding achievement. Our Tall Poppies are not only driving innovative research that will improve people’s lives, but also inspiring young future scientists,” Professor Owens said.

Deputy Director of the Food and Mood Centre within Deakin’s Institute for Mental and Physical Health and Clinical Translation (IMPACT), A/Prof O’Neil is an influential behavioural scientist. For over a decade, her research has investigated the link between mental and cardiovascular health. Her work explores the role lifestyle plays in the onset and outcomes of depression and cardiovascular disease, both respectively and concurrently.

A/Prof O’Neil currently holds a Future Leader Fellowship from the Heart Foundation. She has contributed to more than 120 publications that include book chapters, journal articles and other publications in a range of international and national peer-review publications.

“I am delighted to receive this award at a time when quality science and science communication is more important than ever. I am committed to making science an inclusive place, especially for women and girls of all backgrounds, and appreciate the platform this Tall Poppy award provides me to do this,” A/Prof O’Neil said.

Professor Hesketh, from Deakin’s Institute for Physical Activity and Nutrition (IPAN), is Coordinator of IPAN’s Healthy Active Living Domain and Deputy Director of the NHMRC Centre for Research Excellence in Early Prevention of Obesity in Childhood. With expertise in paediatric public health and behaviour epidemiology, Professor Hesketh’s research focuses on promoting health behaviours in childhood to prevent ill health across the life course.

Professor Hesketh co-developed INfant Feeding Active play and NuTrition (INFANT), a program designed to help families with healthy eating and active play at the start of their baby’s life, which is currently being scaled-up across Victoria. In addition, she is currently trialling a new program she developed for parents, Let’s Grow, focusing on play, sleep and screen time in the toddler years. She has published more than 180 peer-reviewed papers and contributed to numerous policy documents and public-facing health information.

“I am really passionate about using my knowledge to help people live healthier, happier lives. It is such an honour to receive a Young Tall Poppy Award, that celebrates science communication and outreach,” Professor Hesketh said.

The Young Tall Poppy awards are offered on a state-by-state basis to celebrate researchers across science, engineering and mathematics. The details of the 2021 Victorian award presentation ceremony are yet to be confirmed.

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