Alanna Sincovich and Elise Rivera – PHAA Child and Youth Health Special Interest Group (SIG)
In the third and final edition of the 2022 Child and Youth Health SIG Series, we hear from two PhD candidates, Alanna Sincovich and Elise Rivera, who attended the Population Health Congress held on the lands of the Kaurna people (Adelaide) from 21-23 September 2022. Both Alanna and Elise were recipients of the 2022 Child and Youth Health SIG scholarship which allowed them to attend.
Below are their reflections and learnings from the conference.
Alanna Sincovich @AlannaSincovich
Research Assistant, Telethon Kids Institute
PhD Candidate, University of Adelaide
The Congress brought together delegates from a range of population health backgrounds with the theme: Towards a just, safe and sustainable future for Australasia. The sub-themes of justice, safety, and sustainability shone throughout Congress presentations on topics including healthy environments, Indigenous health and wellbeing, health equity, and commercial determinants of health.
My research is focused on exploring how different populations of children can best be supported to achieve healthy development. Ensuring all children can thrive and reach their potential is essential for sustainable development, and I was able to reflect on this key issue at the Congress. I presented findings from research focused on food insecurity and eating behaviours I have been leading at the Telethon Kids Institute. Specifically, my presentation concentrated on the prevalence of breakfast skipping among children and adolescents in South Australia, and the implications this has for children’s learning and engagement experiences at school.
Catching up on tweeting the important work I saw yesterday at #PopCongress2022 — @AlannaSincovich highlighting inequities in missed breakfast for kids across socioeconomic disadvantage and gender — and impacts of missed breakfast on socioemotional/academic outcomes at school pic.twitter.com/3yZzCf1Bde
— Dr Anita van Zwieten (@anitavanzwieten) September 23, 2022
In the same session, I heard about important research on the role of screens in the early years, sedentary behaviour and nutritional lunchboxes among school students, and development of children in the child protection system. These presentations highlighted the challenges families, communities, service providers, and governments face in ensuring children can live and grow in safe and nurturing environments. In addition to research-based insights, I gained important perspectives from policy makers and service providers. As researchers we sometimes only hear about the work of peers, and so hearing from people with different population health backgrounds was valuable.
I am grateful to the PHAA Child and Youth Health SIG for supporting my Congress attendance. Having recently submitted my PhD, I am now planning the next stages of my research. The Congress enabled learnings and reflections on topics central to this research and allowed me to develop connections with individuals in both research and practice. Another highlight was meeting in-person with those I had previously connected with virtually throughout the pandemic. This networking will be key to the next steps of my career.
Elise Rivera @eliserivera05
Research Fellow and PhD student, Deakin University
It was an honour and privilege to attend Population Health Congress 2022, where brilliant minds and leaders from various disciplines came together to discuss key population health issues. The Congress allowed me to consider how other public health sectors’ work can be applied to my PhD research into optimal park design for maximising adolescent physical activity and social connectedness. I gained new insights, had my way of thinking challenged and left with key learnings and additional “tools” in my toolbelt.
The Congress reinforced the importance of continuous learning and challenging myself to continue seeking knowledge. My own research is largely focused on youth physical activity and health, and it dawned on me how important it is to take the blinders off and think beyond my “niche”. I made a point to attend sessions on topics that I was less well-versed in, such as mental health and wellbeing and healthy food, education and training, and I am glad I did. It deepened my understanding in these other, equally important areas of public health, and reiterated how enjoyable it is to keep broadening my knowledge, which helps me as a public health practitioner. A point often repeated throughout the Congress was the importance of reflecting upon lessons learnt from our COVID-19 pandemic experiences. It reinforced to me that, in order to make meaningful progress and apply insights to future health challenges, there must be continuous questioning and learning.
Another noteworthy idea was the importance of having the courage to stay true to your public health values and always bring your authentic self. I was absolutely blown away by the plenary session “Re-imagining Epidemiology to advance Indigenous Health Equity”.
The panel spoke to the need to challenge the monopoly in epidemiology. Speakers emphasised the need for other knowledge, tools, and skills than what we predominantly and traditionally see, and the importance of more thinkers at the table for Indigenous health advancement and sovereignty. The panel called upon us to have the bravery to speak up, sit with the discomfort and “put our money where our mouth is” even if it may not help our careers and mean not backing our own academic institutions.
A highlight of this plenary was that we must not forget that, for Indigenous wellbeing, the end game is not equity but rather sovereignty and self-determination. The standing ovation for Professor Chelsea Watego’s speech was a testament to the importance of the discussions in this session and further punctuated the messages. I was left feeling incredibly inspired.
In the plenary featuring three state public health chiefs, Professor Brett Sutton’s talk highlighted that to be effective health communicators we need to be our authentic selves. He emphasised the need to have the courage to talk through a situation’s complexity and nuance rather than oversimplifying concepts and being absolutist. This important point reinforced the need for courage in my own public health endeavours, especially in the face of crises and challenges. The Congress also made me eager to learn (e.g., media training) to grow as public health leader.
I left the Congress feeling motivated, enlightened and with a deeper love for and connection to population health. In particular, I was inspired following the “Past, present and future public health in Australia” plenary. The COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly been one of the greatest public health challenges in history, with much uncertainty, complexity, and difficulty, and it was powerful to hear from top public health figures. They cast light on the opportunity we currently have to work smarter, more closely, and more collaboratively to combat health inequalities and social determinants of health. The pandemic was a catalyst for multi-disciplinary collaboration and the strengthening of cross-sectoral partnerships. It is an exciting time where the population health field can harness this momentum for other programs, policies and services beyond COVID-19 that are critical to building a healthier, happier and more sustainable Australia for all.
I am thankful to the Child and Youth Health SIG for this incredibly enriching experience in which I learned about amazing work, contextualised my own research more broadly and connected with other professionals. The Congress was a highlight of my public health student trajectory and I am excited to return to my PhD candidature braver and more passionate, connected, confident, and knowledgeable than before!
Read the earlier editions of the 2022 Child and Youth Health SIG series:
- Dr Matthew ‘Tepi’ Mclaughlin talks physical activity and Prevention 2022
- Two reflections on the 2022 Communicable Diseases and Immunisation Conference (CDIC)