Young Investigator Award for junk food diet researcher

Friday, 25 October 2013

University of Adelaide PhD student Jessica Gugusheff has won the prestigious 2013 Young Investigator Award for her research into the impact on babies of junk food diets during pregnancy.

Ms Gugusheff, based at the FOODplus Research Centre at the University's Waite Campus, was chosen for her ability to convey the complex nature of her research in simple language that could be understood by the broader community.

Sponsored by the Women's & Children's Hospital Foundation, the Young Investigator Award recognises excellence in science and science communication in women's and children's health research.

Ms Gugusheff and two other finalists presented their work to a panel of media judges and members of the community at the Adelaide Entertainment Centre last night.

Ms Gugusheff's research demonstrates that a junk food diet during pregnancy alters the development of the opioid reward pathway in the brain of the baby, making the reward pathway less sensitive.

"This means that the child would have to eat more junk food than one whose mother ate a healthy diet during pregnancy to get the same good feelings," Ms Gugusheff says.

She says understanding what drives people to over-consume junk foods will be an important step in curbing obesity rates and improving health both now and into the future.

"There is evidence to suggest that a poor maternal diet whilst pregnant and breastfeeding may predispose children to an increased preference for junk food, however the mechanisms behind this effect are still unclear," she says.

"The results of this study will ultimately allow us to better inform pregnant women about the lasting effect their food choices have on the development of their child's lifelong food preferences, and hopefully improve the long-term diet and health of both mother and child."

Guest speaker at the event was Professor Robert Saint, Pro Vice-Chancellor (Research Strategy) at the University of Adelaide. He says: "The Young Investigator Award is an important initiative because it recognises excellence in science and also encourages young scientists to communicate their work to the broader community.

"It's vital for the public to understand the calibre of research being conducted in this state and its potential to impact on the lives of women and children not just in Australia but right across the world.

"My congratulations go to Jessica Gugusheff on a well-deserved win. She has continued the tradition of outstanding young researchers at the University of Adelaide to be recognised as Young Investigator of the Year."

The Young Investigator Award is an initiative of the Women's and Children's Hospital Foundation, supported by the Women's and Children's Health Network, the University of Adelaide, Flinders University, University of South Australia and the Women's and Children's Health Research Institute at the University of Adelaide.


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