Associate Professor Christina Pollard (left, with PHAA President, Adjunct Professor Tarun Weeramanthri), was awarded Life Membership of the PHAA recently in Adelaide. She explains her varied career to date in this, the second story in our series of 2022 PHAA award winners.
- 1981 Bachelor of Applied Science (Nutrition & Food Science), Curtin University
- 1982 Graduate Diploma Dietetics, Curtin University
- 1993 Master of Public Health, Curtin University
- 2000 Graduate Certificate Public Sector Management, Flinders University
- 2008 Doctor of Philosophy PhD, Curtin University
- 1983+ Dietitian’s Association of Australia (Member, Ass. Editor, Australian Journal Nutrition and Dietetics), State branch executive and WA Branch newsletter editor
- 1990+ Public Health Association of Australia former Vice President (Policy), Vice President (Policy), Co-convenor Food and Nutrition Special Interest Group (FANSIG)
- 2016 World Public Health Nutrition Association Member
- 2000–7 Australian Health Promotion Association Member
I graduated as a dietitian 40 years ago from the Western Australian Institute of Technology – now Curtin University – and started my career as a Paediatric Dietitian at Princess Margaret Children’s Hospital. Following working in this clinical setting I decided to move into more population health / health promotion areas. Upon graduating from University, I became a member of the Dietitians Association of Australia (DAA), and an Associate Editor for the Australian Journal of Nutrition and Dietetics because I wanted to learn more. But, I was keen to move into public health.
For my Master of Public Health I investigated the ‘Use of the 1984 Household Expenditure Survey Database for Nutrition Studies’, supervised by Emeritus Professor Colin Binns. I graduated in 1993. During that time, I worked with Colin on a World Bank project, and undertook dietitian locum positions and a position at Diabetes WA. At the latter I developed “Supermarket Sleuth”, a state-wide education program, and became a Diabetes Educator.
In 1988 I joined the Health Department of Western Australia, initially as a Health Promotion Officer with Margaret Miller (then President of Dietitians Association of Australia, and recently President of the World Public Health Nutrition Association), and Mike Daube (Executive Director) and Bruce Armstrong (Commissioner of Health). In this role I learnt from the best and worked on social marketing campaigns including the Fruit ‘n’ Veg campaign and many other public health nutrition interventions.
In 1992, I was seconded to Deakin University’s Food and Nutrition Program with Colin Sindall as the Program Director. I was responsible for implementing the “2 fruit ‘n 5 veg” campaign in Victoria. At Deakin I also worked on programs including the ‘Real Meal’ Hotels project, and a body image and eating behaviours project and contributed to the review of Australian Dietary Guidelines. I learnt a lot about catering improvement from the team, and the politics of food from Colin Sindall. I returned to WA in 1993 when I had my first child. I also returned to WA Health, bringing with me new ideas and a network of colleagues who I have continued to work with ever since.
I decided to do my PhD and Professor Binns and Dr Mike Phillips were my supervisors. My thesis examined ‘The Determinants of Fruit and Vegetables Consumption Among Adults in Perth, Western Australia’. I felt that this would assist me to understand more and do better. I studied part-time, worked full-time at WA Health and graduated in 2008.
What has been the highlights of your career so far?
I progressed to Senior Health Promotion Officer and then Manager of the Nutrition Branch of WA Health. As a public servant, I’ve had the privilege of working with amazing colleagues on a range of public health interventions, some of which have been replicated nationally. These included mass media campaigns promoting fruit and vegetables (Gofor2&5©), breads and cereals, physical activity (Find 30). I also worked on dietary surveys and with colleagues across Australia to develop nutrition monitoring and surveillance systems. I was involved in developing food service interventions and policy for schools, childcare, prisons, retail food service and more.
I developed, implemented and evaluated the ‘Start Right, Eat Right’ award scheme to improve food provision in childcare centres. These were later incorporated into nutrition training in childcare centres and licensing guidelines.
I’ve also worked on a Dietary Review of Prison Systems in WA and collaborated with northern Australian public health nutrition colleagues to develop the Food North strategy for remote communities across Australia.
Other major projects in which I’ve been involved include the National Public Health Partnership’s Strategic Intergovernmental Nutrition Alliance, and the development of the National Obesity Taskforce’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Strategy for the Federal Government. I was the NPHP’s Fruit and Vegetable Project Officer and Editor for their FoodChain newsletter. I moved into Food Regulation and worked extensively on and food labelling and food price monitoring.
More recently I’ve worked on nutrition strategy an Obesity Prevention Strategy for the East Metropolitan Health Service. Food security interests me, and I’m a founding member of the WA Food Relief Framework, now FairFood WA, an area in which I’ve worked extensively. I am also a founding member of SHARE, where we collaborate to address food insecurity. I have been a Director of Foodbank WA for several years.
I focussed my work on the social and economic determinants of health. Along with Professor Deborah Kerr and Timothy Landrigan from the Australian Bureau of Statistics and with extensive advice from my colleagues in all other health departments, in 2010 we developed the WA Food Access and Costs Survey (FACS). We then used the FACS to develop the Food Stress Index, which has become particularly helpful in identifying areas where households are at high risk of food insecurity. We progressed this work with Fair Food WA and the Index provided essential intelligence in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic and Victorian bushfires.
I’m a Board Member of Deakin University’s IPAN (Institute for Physically Activity and Nutrition) and have for years worked closely with Professor Mark Lawrence and Sarah McNaughton and others.
Joining Curtin University and moving into academia
In April 2020, I took leave without pay from my government position to work at Curtin University as Associate Professor Public Health Priorities in the role of Director of both the Public Health Advocacy Institute (PHAI) and Mentally Healthy WA. The need for the promotion of mental wellbeing has never been greater and, building on the work of others (including Professor Ray James and Professor Robert Donovan) we’ve evolved the Act Belong Commit campaign to meet the increasing mental health needs of the population under the leadership of Meg Clarey, our manager.
Working with Associate Professor Melissa Stoneham, the former Director of PHAI, we have increased the focus on public health inequity, and I have had the privilege of engaging with the #EndingTrachoma program, which is making such a difference to remote Aboriginal communities in Western Australia.
My new academic position has afforded me the opportunity to supervise PhDs and work with some incredibly talented people. Throughout my career I have been interested in learning and have supervised students including Master’s and PhDs. I resigned from the WA Health in 2022 in order to continue this work.
Joining the PHAA
When I attended my first PHAA conferences it was a real eye opener. These public health folk had a passion and a way of working that I had not seen before. I promptly joined the Public Health Association of Australia in 1990. I was introduced to some inspiring individuals working in other areas of public health who helped me develop my skills and see the potential impact that public health could make, and also the inequity that exists. I joined the Food and Nutrition Special Interest Group (FANSIG) where I met some amazing folk (Professor Mark Lawrence, Dr Julie Woods, Judy Seal, Bronwyn Ashton) and worked with them to advocate for public health nutrition. I later became a FANZIG Co-Convenor, along with Associate Professor Andrea Begley, where we tackled key advocacy priorities in public health nutrition.
I then became a PHAA Board Member, Vice President Policy in 2016, and later Vice President Development. I worked with PHAA member and incredible staff to review and develop public health policies (over 90 across a variety of areas) and found that a lot of what I learnt was often applicable in all areas of public health.
Under the leadership of then CEO Michael Moore and former President David Templeman, I saw the PHAA Board grow to integrate diversify, youth, strengthen the commitment to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island health. I had the privilege of working with Professor Heather Yeatman, Dr Summer May Finlay, and many more. I have joined forces with many of my public health colleagues to undertake advocacy for public health priorities. It has been amazing working with our new CEO Terry Slevin and President Tarun Weeramanthri and the Board over the last few years as PHAA has guided public opinion, mentored the workforce and made an amazing impact on public health during the COVID-19 pandemic. Importantly, doing all of this while keeping an eye on our other public health pandemics, mental health, overweight and obesity, climate change etc and making sure we have a skilled public health workforce who are supported to do this work.
What public health issue do you think does not get the attention it deserves?
Health inequity and the impact it has on our society and people. We do not have many opportunities to hear from the lived experience in Australia. Food and nutrition, food insecurity.
What lessons do you think we have learned from the COVID-19 pandemic?
Public health matters – and our focus needs to stay on prevention, protection, and promotion.
Inequity is a major barrier to public health and the pandemic has brought this clearly into focus. The skills and commitment of the public health work matter too. Communication and advocacy are important and although most people know what an epidemiologist is now, public health may soon be less ‘flavour of the month’. Our professional associations, like PHAA, Health Promotion Association, Dietitians Association, Environmental Health Association, Epidemiology Association etc, if we work together, bring a depth of skilled professionals to the table.
What advice would you give to someone considering a career in public health?
Be curious, ask lots of questions about public health, volunteer, and learn. Take on being a public health advocate. Live what you speak but remember to have fun.