ABOVE: Dr Tailane Scapin, third from right, with researchers from the Centre for Epidemiological Research in Nutrition and Health in the University of São Paulo.
Dr Tailane Scapin, is a Research Fellow at the Global Centre for Preventive Health and Nutrition (GLOBE) at Deakin University. Over the past eight years, she has conducted mixed-methods research on a series of public health nutrition-related projects, with a particular focus on food labelling, consumer behaviours, and strategies to promote healthier eating within retail food environments. Supported by RE-FRESH Early-to-Mid-Career Knowledge Exchange funding, she travelled to the Center for Epidemiological Research in Nutrition and Health (NUPENS) in the University of São Paulo (USP) to participate in research activities.
She shares her experience:
Motivation behind my visit to USP
My 30+h journey from Australia to Brazil was driven by a shared vision of addressing a critical public health issue: childhood obesity and the influence of retail food environments on this. The backdrop to my visit is a collaborative research project between Deakin University and USP titled “Healthy Food Environments for Healthy Food Choices in Childhood and Adolescence: Overcoming the Challenges to Implementing Effective Obesity Prevention Initiatives in Brazil.” This project, spanning five years, is funded ($250K US) by the Global Alliance for Chronic Diseases (GACD) and has as a Principal Prof. Patricia Jaime, Scientific Director of the Center for Epidemiological Research in Nutrition and Health (NUPENS-USP). Prof. Jaime and her team at NUPENS were my gracious hosts during my stay in São Paulo.
The project itself was conceived in 2022 when GACD put out a call for implementation research projects focused on addressing non-communicable disease (NCD) risk factors among young people. The awarded project is a first-of-its-kind initiative in Brazil, aiming to support in addressing the growing rates of obesity among children and adolescents by promoting retail food environments that make the healthy choice the easy choice. This is where I and A/Prof Adrian Cameron (CI for RE-FRESH), come into play.
Drawing from our expertise in improving retail food environments in Australia and in the Asia and Pacific region, we joined forces with the Brazilian researchers that have so far conducted a brilliant program of work on the food retail space in Brazil. My visit aimed to approximate the two research groups, share knowledge, and advance in the activities for the GACD project.
What did I do there?
During my three-day stay in São Paulo, I had a jam-packed schedule that involved a mix of learning, teaching, and collaboration:
Day 1: My visit kicked off with an invitation to participate in a short course, “Topics on Healthy Food Retail Environments,” organised by NUPENS for HDR students from across Brazil. The session aimed to emphasise the significance of retail food environments in influencing dietary behaviours and equipping researchers with the most relevant tools and resources needed for research in this field.
Day 2: I had the opportunity to learn more about the research conducted by NUPENS, which has a strong focus on promoting healthy eating using the Brazilian Dietary Guidelines principles among a range of settings. I also had the pleasure of meeting HDR students from NUPENS, especially those involved in the GACD project, providing them with feedback on their Master or PhDs thesis, to align their aims with the expectations of the grant. This day also involved crucial meetings with the lead researchers of the GACD project to discuss various aspects of our research work and make decisions about the upcoming steps for the project.
Day 3: This day we organised and delivered an event that combined in-person and online participation, focusing on the theme of creating healthier retail food environments and how research can help put plans into action. During this event, I had the chance to showcase some of the work done by RE-FRESH, and particularly share my experiences working on the “Healthy Food Retail in Asia and Pacific” project with UNICEF. I presented some of the useful resources we’ve produced for that project, which was of great interest for the audience. More than 60 people joined us for this event, making it a great success.
This knowledge exchange experience was a great opportunity to approximate both research groups, NUPENS and GLOBE, that have been working to solve similar challenges through food retail research from different corners of the globe. I now have a better understanding of the different tools for monitoring retail settings focus on the availability and promotion of ultra-processed foods, as well as had great discussions on the barriers and facilitators on integrating research and policy. Some off-of-the-work-schedule discussions were also quite insightful, particularly around research funding, the power of collaboration, and the importance of putting our work in perspective. This experience reinforced my belief that inspired people and our collective efforts can drive positive change.
This knowledge exchange experience presented a unique opportunity to connect two research groups, NUPENS and GLOBE, both tackling similar challenges in food retail research from different corners of the globe.
Through this exchange, I gained a deeper understanding of some of the great food and nutrition policies in place in Brazil (eg. front-of-pack warning labels, the Brazilian Dietary Guidelines message to avoid ultra-processed foods), and how the food retail research is being designed to connect with those policies to maximise impact. I also learned more about the concepts and application of implementation research, which has been used through several projects within the Brazilian research group. Beyond our formal activities, informal conversations were equally interesting, touching on topics like research funding, the transformative power of collaboration, and the importance of putting our work in perspective with the other health-related issues of the society. This experience reinforced my belief that passionate researchers and collective efforts have the potential to drive meaningful change.