Beryl Nashar Young Researcher of the year advancing children’s health and nutrition

Health and Wellbeing Queensland (HWQld) research fellow Dr Li Kheng Chai has been recognised for her research and advocacy to improve the nutrition and health of children and families, receiving the University of Newcastle’s 2021 Beryl Nashar Young Researcher Award.

Dr Chai completed her PhD at the University of Newcastle where she developed and implemented a telehealth program to address obesity and nutrition in children and families using technology solutions.

Back2Basics Family is a novel technology-based program which can be used to provide families with a timely, comprehensive and personalised child weight management intervention that has the potential to be scaled up and complementary to existing health services in Australia. The program is currently being adopted for implementation in the United Kingdom by Leeds Beckett University in partnership with the local council to support their government priorities in reducing obesity.

Dr Chai’s dual qualifications and experience as a dietitian and researcher have enhanced her current work as Research Fellow at HWQld focusing on obesity prevention, nutrition and physical activity research.

“I believe nutrition starts from a young age, when children begin their adventures in learning about food. Really, the problem that I’m trying to solve is to have everyone achieve the best nutrition they can, starting with our kids,” Dr Chai said.

At HWQld, Dr Chai works alongside health professionals, universities and research partners, supporting the research behind a range of key programs.

“For HWQld’s Pick of the Crop program, we are going into schools and supporting them to build a positive food environment,” she said.

Dr Chai has supported HWQld’s Gather + Grow program which aims to address food insecurity in remote First Nations communities in the Torres, Cape and Lower Gulf.

HWQld Chief Executive Dr Robyn Littlewood said Dr Chai’s research and advocacy had helped shape programs and initiatives positively impacting the lives of Queensland children and families.

“As Queensland’s dedicated prevention agency, HWQld is working to help identify the specific shifts and most valuable interventions that will have the greatest impact on Queenslanders’ health and wellbeing. The research behind our programs underpins everything,” Dr Littlewood said.

“Dr Chai’s research expertise, her innovative use of digital solutions, combined with her passion for improving the health outcomes of Queenslanders, has brought so much to HWQld and the work we do.”

Dr Chai has been recognised nationally and internationally through her collaboration with Leeds Beckett University, an editorial appointment with European Journal of Clinical Nutrition and joint publications with international experts from Australia, United States, United Kingdom, Switzerland, Sweden, Norway, Hong Kong, and World Obesity Federation.

“In her current role, Dr Chai is developing the foundational research work for Health and Wellbeing Queensland. It is such a privilege for me to witness one of our upcoming future leaders changing the lives of Queenslanders and being so passionate about succeeding. I couldn’t be prouder,” Dr Littlewood said.

Her many awards include Best Oral Presentation at the 2020 Australian and New Zealand Obesity Society International Conference, Queensland Children’s Hospital Precinct Early Career Researcher of the Year 2019, Queensland Health Practitioner Research Grant the same year (to trial a clinical pediatric nutrition care model) and the 2016 Dietitians Australia Emerging Researcher Award.

The 2021 Beryl Nashar Young Researcher Award was one of nine University of Newcastle Alumni Excellence Awards announced on November 4. In the 46-year history of the Awards, the University of Newcastle has recognised 180 alumni achievers for their exceptional achievements across a diverse range of industries and communities.