HiPPP EMR-C Conference addresses healthy lifestyle interventions in the reproductive years

Rebecca Krispin Uncategorised

Pregnancy is a teachable moment.

This was a common theme at today’s HiPPP EMR-C (Health in Preconception, Pregnancy and Postpartum Early and Mid-Career Researcher Collective) conference. 

This was the 2nd conference for the collective, which brought together researchers Australia-wide and from around the world to share knowledge and collaborate on addressing maternal obesity and improving pregnancy outcomes. 

The online conference included presentations from over 30 researchers, including several CRE HiPP team members. Participants came from as far afield as the UK, Netherlands and the US. 

Dr Joshua Sparks, a Postdoctoral Researcher at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Louisiana, discussed the potential of individualized prescription of physical activity to encourage exercise during pregnancy. 

Despite the importance of physical activity for the health of mothers and children, “most pregnant individuals do not engage in physical activity nor meet current physical activity recommendations,” he said.

His research found that the three main barriers to exercise during pregnancy for women are being too tired, too uncomfortable, and not having childcare for their other children. Meeting their individual needs can be a critical factor in enabling them to fit a suitable form of exercise into their lifestyle. 

 Dr Nicole Kellow, Senior Lecturer in Nutrition and Dietetics at Monash University, spoke about her review of research into maximising reproductive success in Assisted Reproductive Treatment (ART) through nutrition. 

The link between diet and fertility is an important area of research for ART, where patients and practitioners are always aiming to improve live birth rates. The latest statistics from the Australian and New Zealand Assisted Reproduction Database (ANZARD) show that only 18% of IVF cycles result in a live birth

Following her extensive review of existing research in this area, Dr Kellow has this advice about nutrition for ART users: “I still adhere to the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating. But I also encourage incorporating elements of the Mediterranean diet, including plenty of fruit and vegetables, extra virgin olive oil and reducing red meat consumption.”

Dr Megan Gow, Dietician and Senior Lecturer at The University of Sydney, gave a very focussed 3-minute “Rapid Fire” presentation on postpartum body images posted to Instagram. 

Thirty nine percent of Instagram users worldwide are women of childbearing age. This makes it a possible avenue for conveying health information to women. But as is widely known, Instagram can also have a negative impact on mood and body satisfaction in young women. 

According to her findings, “Instagram images present an idealized version of the postpartum body, which may contribute to body dissatisfaction,” said Dr Gow.

However, she also concluded that “Conveying health information on Instagram may be important in interrupting the potentially negative impacts of scrolling through these images.”

Keynote Speaker Professor Jodie Dodd, an Obstetrician, Medical Director and academic at The University of Adelaide, spoke about the importance of preconception health and generously provided personal aspects of making the most of a research career. This included knowing and maximising your strengths, having a strong support network, being kind to yourself and others, and maintaining a healthy work-life balance.  

These were just a few of the many fascinating presentations at the conference. Overall throughout the day, topics covered included lifestyle interventions such as diet and exercise, healthcare interventions, research into different physical and mental health conditions, and training opportunities. 

All stages of the reproductive years were discussed, including before, during and after pregnancy, and considering all family members. Some presentations also investigated lifestyle and pregnancy outcomes under different socio-economic and cultural conditions. 

The main conference organisers were Dr Vanessa Shrewsbury, Dr Jenna Hollis and Dr Megan Gow. However, there were 18 other Collective members who helped – clearly a huge team effort!

In her closing remarks, CRE HiPP Director Professor Helen Skouteris said “The day was brilliant. If this is the talent we have in EMRCs in the area of healthy lifestyle interventions in the reproductive years, we’re going to serve our community well. The knowledge you are all generating will no doubt lead to positive impacts on health outcomes. Watch this space.”

Professor Skouteris also presented the annual HiPPP EMR-C awards. 

The HiPPP EMR-C, which started in 2019, currently has over 60 members in Australia and overseas. This includes both researchers and mentors at many different stages of their careers. 

The collective is aiming to recruit more members, as well as to inspire researchers internationally to set up their own collectives. To find out more or get involved, visit hipp.org.au to fill out the online form. For students who would like to get involved in the newly-formed Postgraduate Student HiPPP Network, email Kaylee Slater at hippp.emrc@gmail.com.