Dr Briony Hill wins prestigious ARC grant to investigate weight stigma in women of reproductive age

Rebecca Krispin Uncategorised

CRE HiPP Research Fellow, Dr Briony Hill, has been awarded a prestigious 2022 Australian Research Council (ARC) Discovery Project grant to lead a team focused on developing knowledge around weight stigma in preconception, pregnancy and postpartum.

The overall aim of this project is to develop guidance for the translation of weight stigma evidence into preconception, pregnancy and postpartum obesity-related policy. 

Dr Hill is thrilled to have received this 4-year grant.

“It means I can do the research that I’ve spent so long developing and thinking about,” she said. 

“Knowing how important this problem is, now we can actually get moving and make some headway into achieving the outcomes, which is the whole reason that we do research – to make a change.”

The project aims to achieve three outcomes. The first is to build new knowledge and collect data on understanding how weight stigma is perpetuated against women of reproductive age. 

The second is to advance understanding of theory for the prevention of maternal obesity, and the third is to develop tangible tools to enable policy change and reduction of weight stigma during the reproductive phases.

 “This research employs a socio-ecological model, which is about taking the responsibility off individual women of reproductive age and thinking about weight issues from more of a social and environmental perspective,” said Dr Hill. 

“We don’t want to focus on blaming women as the only ones who have to change their behaviour. 

“What we’re doing is looking at things a bit more broadly and saying yes, we are responsible for our own behaviour for the most part, but our weight and behaviours can actually be heavily influenced by our environment.

“This can include family members, friends, relatives, the social and cultural environment, the healthcare system, work environments, the government and media.”

In terms of tangible outcomes, Dr Hill is aiming to develop tools which will help put into practice the knowledge generated through her research. 

This will include social policy and clinical guidance recommendations, plain language summaries and policy briefs.

“Achievements of the project might look like changing the wording or what’s included in relevant policies so that they are less stigmatising. 

“We also hope to help change the environment so that weight stigma is less likely to be perpetuated, which can then help women as well as their future families.”

The policy guidance tools will be co-designed with a wide range of stakeholders, including midwives, dieticians, exercise physiologists, general practitioners, obstetricians, women of reproductive age and policy makers in both government and hospital administration.

“Everyone’s views are important for making this work at all levels,” she said. 

The research will start with broad consultation investigating the experiences of weight stigma among women in the reproductive phases across the community.

This will include surveys, interviews and an innovative technique called qualitative story completion.

“This means asking people to complete a story with what they think the answer should be. It doesn’t have to be from their personal experiences – it can just be their perceptions of what happens in society…it’s a little bit different,” said Dr Hill.   

As well as the potential of her research, Dr Hill is excited about taking advantage of the opportunities afforded by this grant. 

“This is special to me because it is a boost to my track record as an Early-Career Researcher. It will also give me the chance to further develop my leadership skills, and build experience in mentoring students and junior colleagues.”

Congratulations to Dr Hill and her research team: Professor Helen Skouteris, Professor Lucie Rychetnik, Associate Professor Matthew Fuller-Tyszkiewicz, Associate Professor Jacqueline Boyle, Assistant Professor Angela Incollingo Rodriguez, Ms Divya Ramachandran and Ms Jane Martin. 

Dr Briony Hill
Dr Briony Hill