EASO New Investigator Award in Public Health for 2024

Congratulations to Dr Laura Gray who has received the EASO New Investigator Award in Public Health for 2024! 

Laura is a Research fellow at the University of Sheffield who has conducted extensive research on obesity and population health. She is also a Committee Member and the Strategic Review Lead at ASO. Laura has a particular interest in obesity across the life course and has led research on childhood obesity and obesity in older adults as well as analysing trends in obesity across time, with age and within birth cohorts.

We spoke to Laura to find out more about her research interests and the impact of winning the award.

Please tell us a bit about your work and interests

I have been strongly committed to obesity and public health research since the start of my academic career.  In particular, I am interested in obesity across the life course.  

My PhD, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE), focused on childhood obesity.  I explored the influences of breastfeeding on subsequent BMI during childhood, as well as how childhood obesity and overweight are associated with family dynamics and overall child heath.

I am currently undertaking a Medical Research Council (MRC) fellowship investigating BMI trajectories in older adults.  This research aims to determine which individuals are likely to experience increases, decreases and stable BMI trajectories, over the age of 50 years.  Results from this study emphasized the importance of looking at changes in BMI alongside most recent BMI. We concluded that BMI trajectories should be considered, where possible, when assessing health risks and that established BMI thresholds should not be used in isolation, particularly in older adults.

Other recent research has explored how obesity trends in England have been driven by age, period and cohort, disentangling the effects of time, environment and generation.  Younger generations with higher overweight prevalence coupled with increasing obesity prevalence with age suggested that obesity should remain a high priority for public health policy makers in England.  I am currently exploring how these trends compare with data from Ghana to determine whether obesity trends are driven by different factors in different settings.

I also like to get involved in the wider obesity research community.  I am lead editor of a special issue of Frontiers in Public Health, titled Obesity across the Lifecourse.  I am a former trustee of the Association for the Study of Obesity (ASO) UK and currently sit on the ASO operations management team as the strategic lead.  

What was your reaction to receiving the award?

I am delighted to accept the EASO NNF New Investigator Award in Public Health.  I am thrilled to be speaking about my research and receive the award at the award ceremony at ECO in Venice.  I am very much looking forward to meeting lots of other researchers with similar interests at the congress.  I am excited to get started with the further research that the grant will allow me to pursue and I am very grateful to EASO and NNF for the award and associated grant.

Can you tell us a bit about the research you hope to undertake with the award funding?

I am planning to use the research award funding to investigate how we see obesity changing over time when we use different measures of obesity.  Specifically, I will be investigating waist-to-hip ratio (WHR), waist-to-height ratio (WHtR) and waist circumference (WC). 

The research will use an age-period-cohort analysis to investigate the proportion of high risk WHR, WHtR and WC by time, birth cohort and across the life course.  These trends will be compared to changes previously estimated using BMI thresholds in order to determine whether they follow similar patterns, increase and decrease in a similar pattern across generations, time and by age, and investigate which measures are the best indicators of risk for different individuals. The research will use English data (Health Survey for England) in the first instance and replicated in other European countries if time and data allows, to compare across different settings.

I plan to engage with a PPIE group of people with lived experience of obesity in order to gain important background information about their preferences of adiposity measurement. This will give a valuable context to any policy recommendations resulting from this research.  Results from the proposed research will be presented to the PPIE group to discuss the findings.  Any additional explanation that people with lived experience can provide will aid the interpretation of results and the recommendations for policy.  
I will also be working with colleagues at NICE, getting feedback to ensure that the research is applicable to the guidance that they are currently developing and to disseminate the research to them in a timely manner.

What impact do you think receiving the award will have on your career?

The award will have a huge impact on my career.  It will allow me to continue to pursue obesity research that is of great interest to me and will enable me to attend and speak at ECO both this year and next.  It will also give me valuable experience integrating PPIE into my research, as well as increasing my network of other obesity researchers.  I am very grateful to EASO for choosing me as their New Investigator in Public Health!

All prizes and awards will be officially presented at the 30th European Congress on Obesity (ECO2024), 12-15 May 2024, where attendees will have an opportunity to hear an award lecture from the Prize for Excellence winner and presentations from each New Investigator Award winner.

For more information on the entry criteria and application process for the Obesity Prize for Excellence and New Investigator Awards.

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