Please tell us about your career pathway to date (positions and institutes).
After I graduated as a Master of Science in Experimental and Theoretical Psychology at Ghent University (Ghent, Belgium) in July 2014, I started working in September 2014 as a PhD-student at the Department of Movement and Sports Sciences (Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, Ghent University, Belgium) under the supervision of Prof. Dr. Greet Cardon, Prof. Dr. Ilse De Bourdeaudhuij and Prof. Dr. Marieke De Craemer. Currently, I am working on an FWO-funded research project that aims to develop, implement and evaluate a multicomponent eHealth lifestyle intervention for fathers and their children, in order to prevent overweight and obesity in the family.
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?
Recent literature has shown that most (intervention) research on childhood obesity and obesity-related behaviours includes mainly mothers, while fathers have been largely underrepresented and are difficult to engage. This is an evidence gap, as recent literature has suggested that the influence of fathers on their children may be more important for predicting childhood obesity than the influence of mothers. Therefore, my PhD project aims to develop, implement and evaluate a lifestyle intervention targeting fathers and their children to improve their amount of co-physical activity (PA) and screen time (i.e. the “Run Daddy Run intervention”). For the development of this intervention, a co-creation approach was used, which is a participatory technique that involves the target group actively in the entire development process of the intervention. Together, my main research interest is childhood obesity prevention, by promoting positive lifestyle behaviours (such as PA) in specifically fathers and their children.
What are the main barriers you encounter/experience when conducting research, or what information/skills do you lack to conduct high quality research?
As shown in the literature, it is difficult to engage fathers and their children in lifestyle interventions. My main challenge is therefore to develop an intervention that is appealing and engaging for fathers and their children, addressing the current underrepresentation of fathers. This issue is partially addressed by involving fathers actively in the intervention development process, but the challenge remains. Another barrier that I experience is combining the work that needs to be done for my project (i.e. developing, implementing, piloting, evaluating a qualitative intervention – and all the aspects that come with this), with delivering (sufficient) scientific output and other tasks that need to be done such as teaching or supervising master theses. If I could receive 48 hours in one day, I would definitely apply.
What could help you as a student/ECR to further develop/grow in your current position?
One thing that is (to my opinion) definitely important, is international collaboration and research exchange between researchers and research institutions. I strongly believe that co-operating and learning from other researchers and experts (preferably) within your research field can significantly improve your research and your research skills, helping you grow into a skilled and experienced researcher.
What do you think will be the next most important development in the nutrition and/or physical activity field?
On the one hand, I am convinced that more attention will be paid to actively involving the target or end-user group in the development of interventions to promote, for example, PA or nutrition, especially in vulnerable or at-risk populations. This bottom-up approach, better known as ‘participatory research’ (such as co-creation), would be a crucial step forward in health promotion research as it would complement the traditional ‘top-down’ approach where researchers are the only active agents in the development process. On the other hand, I think that digital (e- and mHealth) interventions will become increasingly important in health research and promotion, as technology (such as smartphones, tablets and other mobile devices) –increasingly used by both adults and children- is intrinsically motivating and easy to use, requiring low effort and time. Furthermore, the transfer of information through technology is fast and efficient, which makes it also possible to reach large populations.