Student & ECR Spotlight – Dr Gabriella McLoughlin shares her work disseminating school-based obesity prevention interventions using implementation science methods in the United States

Please tell us about your career pathway to date (positions and institutes).

I started as an undergraduate student in the Sport and Exercise Science program (SPEXS) at Leeds Beckett University (formerly Leeds Metropolitan) and graduated in 2009. Following this, I moved to the United States where I began a masters in Kinesiology at the University of Illinois. I then completed my PhD at Illinois, finishing summer 2018. Currently, I work as a post-doctoral research associate at Iowa State University in the department of Kinesiology conducting school-based physical activity and nutrition research.


How would you briefly describe your current research/job to someone who is not familiar with your field of study/work? What is your main research interest?

My main interests are working with schools and communities to promote and enhance children’s health behaviors through policy and systems change. I work primarily with teachers and community members to build their capacity for school wellness, with a key focus on understanding their experiences in such process through a mixed methods approach. We are currently disseminating an evidence-based obesity prevention intervention called School Wellness Integration Targeting Child Health (SWITCH) across schools in Iowa using dissemination and implementation principles to study adoption of program best practices and subsequent impact on children’s physical activity and nutrition behaviors. 

I work directly with schools in our program and coordinate all research activity; this experience has been extremely challenging and rewarding given the increasingly complex nature of school systems. I also am heavily involved with assessment of physical activity and fitness in youth and am working towards refining a tool within our laboratory that captures context-specific physical activity and sedentary behaviors in youth, allowing us to examine school-based and out-of-school behaviors. 


What are the main barriers you encounter/experience when conducting research, or what information/skills do you lack to conduct high quality research?

I have faced many challenges disseminating our work with schools. Unfortunately, teachers face tremendous pressure to educate children through focusing on “core” academic subjects such as English and mathematics; asking them to adopt wellness initiatives and implementation strategies to promote student health behavior is often not a priority. We must continuously strive to educate professionals and future professionals about the impact of strong health behaviors on both physical and mental health so that educators see the importance of wellness promotion. 


What could help you as a student/ECR to further develop/grow in your current position?

Attending conferences such as ISBNPA and other international meetings has had a profound impact on my career thus far; I am seeking to collaborate with other scientists across the United States and the world who share the same interests therefore networking is extremely valuable for me. Other opportunities to network or learn from others, such as attending webinars through ISBNPA, would be extremely beneficial.


What do you think will be the next most important development in the nutrition and/or physical activity field? 

I believe more attention should be paid to implementation science as a means to understand adoption and implementation of health behavior interventions in all settings. Greater understanding of how programs are adopted and implemented will fortify our efforts to change systems and improve policies that can reinforce strong physical activity and nutrition behaviors. 



Get in touch with Gabriella by email: [email protected] or follow her on twitter @Gabriella_Mcl