QUT nutrition students are working with industry professionals to get job-ready and tackle Australia’s new National Obesity Strategy and healthy nutrition interventions.
Charlotte Morrison is a senior public nutritionist with Health and Wellbeing Queensland (HWQld) and an Adjunct Senior Lecturer with QUT, and recently visited QUT to talk to students studying the Community and Public Health unit.
HWQld is the state’s health promotion agency tasked with implementing the new 10-year National Obesity Strategy in Queensland.
Ms Morrison said it was important for nutritionists already working with the public to share insights with our future nutritionists about how they can contribute to public health.
In addition to guest lectures, Ms Morrison also sees QUT students at her workplace, with HWQld regularly taking students for work placements as part of their QUT courses.
“They learn a lot from us, but we also gain a lot from having students in the workplace – they bring new ideas, bring new ways of thinking and they give different insights,” Ms Morrison said.
“Last semester we had students working a program called Pick of the Crop, where they looked at ways to get primary school children to eat more fruit and vegetables within the school setting.
“They came up with some great ideas about how schools can better connect with parents, such as incorporating our lunchbox messages into existing school information sessions, sharing recipes, getting information across at assemblies, and making sure there are no language barriers.”
Ms Morrison said she enjoyed sharing her knowledge with students and “giving back” through guest lectures and industry placements – and inspiring people to take up careers in public health.
“The students do a lot of training around clinical practice, but this is a really good opportunity to show them there are also career options in public health,” she said.
Third-year QUT nutrition and dietetics student Melanie Raabe has a background in business and social media and is keen to use technology to spread positive public health messages after she graduates from her four-year Bachelor of Nutrition and Dietetics (Honours).
“That’s the dream!” she said.
“I’d love to develop a health website or app that can put out accurate information that’s up-to-date and sensible and that busts the diet myths.”
Melanie took part in a Spark workshop run by QUT Entrepreneurship for health students during the first year of her degree, and will do work placements with the QUT Health Clinics in 2022 and 2023.
It’s her second time studying at QUT – she completed a business degree majoring in accountancy 20 years ago.
“It’s not that I didn’t love my first career, but the daily grind of accounting just got to me and I wanted to do something different,” she said.
“I started my own social media consultancy and then decided to enrol in nutrition and dietetics in 2020 after being inspired by my own health journey and losing weight and getting into fitness.
“I didn’t know at first if it was something I could do in my late 30s – it’s hard to get out of the mindset that you have to do the same thing for life.
“But my partner has been very supportive and I’ve found that there are a lot of mature people studying nutrition and dietetics who have worked in other careers – it really is a varied cohort.
“I was able to get into my new course based on the GPA (grade point average) from my first degree, plus I did a short bridging course in chemistry through QUT before I applied.
“I have a real desire to help people … there’s so much misinformation out there about nutrition, and sharing the right messages is an area I’m really passionate about.”
She has spent most of her career in public health nutrition and was a senior public health nutritionist and Director of Public Health Nutrition for Queensland Health for 12 years.
Associate Professor Vidgen and Ms Morrison are also both members of the Woolworths Centre for Childhood Nutrition Research, which is collaboration between QUT, Children’s Hospital and Health Service and QIMRB.
Associate Professor Vidgen said her students were actively studying the new National Obesity Strategy, which was released in March as a 10-year framework for action to prevent, reduce and treat obesity in Australia.
“We provided submissions during the development of the strategy and have been closely following its progress,” Associate Professor Vidgen said.
“For nutritionists and dietitians, the strategy really is a very exciting development – and it follows the launch of the National Preventive Health Strategy too.
“It puts a renewed focus on public health and nutrition, and how nutritionists and dietitians can create opportunities for healthy sustainable eating, and empower people to stay healthy and have access to good quality nutrition services. And hopefully it will lead to more jobs being created for nutrition students wanting to work in the area of prevention.
“We want our students to be job-ready when they graduate, so they actively study what’s going on in the real world. We’ve been talking a lot about the new National Obesity Strategy and pulling out specific items and asking: So if you were out in the workplace, what would you do, how would you tackle it?
“Being able to learn from visiting guest lecturers like Charlotte and hear about what Health and Wellbeing Queensland is doing is also tremendously helpful for students.”
Ms Morrison said HWQld’s current work included a range of policy and program pieces such as those focussed on increasing healthy food options in healthcare, cafes and community sport environments.
“We’re leading the implementation of the National Obesity Strategy in Queensland and will be developing an action plan with the help of community and stakeholder input that will target food and physical activity,” Ms Morrison said.
** Find out more about studying nutrition and dietetics at QUT at the 2022 QUT Open Day on Sunday, July 31. **
Pictured at top: HWQld's Charlotte Morrison and QUT's Associate Professor Helen Vidgen with QUT nutrition students.