A period of upheaval in Meron Lewis’ life was the catalyst for a change in career and life direction.
“You could say it was a bit of a mid-life crisis,” she says, referring to how she found herself visiting a careers counsellor after a marriage breakdown left her questioning her work at a patent attorney firm.
“I wanted to go back to something that was about helping people.”
Dietetics became front of mind and Meron put her enquiring mind to the test with a Bachelor of Health Science (Nutrition & Dietetics) (Hons) at the Queensland University of Technology, graduating in 2015.
A science-based focus was a return to her roots – Meron had completed a Bachelor of Science at the University of Melbourne straight after school, before being invited to undertake Honours in Chemistry. In this research, she aimed to find a more targeted result for a chemotherapy drug.
She had also worked in chemistry labs in Australia and overseas, including in South Africa, where she ventured with her then-husband in support of his Master’s studies.
It was only after returning to Australia and its challenging job market in the early 2000s that she stepped outside of science – taking up a role as a patent examiner in the patents and trademarks office in Canberra. Meron returned to this field after the birth of her first child, but in Brisbane and “on the other side”, with a patent attorney firm, supported by undertaking a Masters in intellectual property.
“I guess I’ve always been open to challenge and change,” Meron explains.
“My grandfather was an academic, my father has a PhD and my mother went from being a teacher to a family history researcher…you could say that they really instilled a life-long interest in learning.”
This interest is now being applied to her PhD under primary supervisor Prof. Amanda Lee at the University of Queensland – having found her ‘calling’ in food pricing research during her health science degree, which saw her connect with Amanda and become her research assistant.
Meron’s PhD aims to provide better data on habitual diet intakes, and the costs and affordability of both habitual and recommended diets for low socio-economic groups in Australia, to better inform policy and practice.
It’s a topic she felt strongly drawn to.
“I had personally experienced what it was like to try to feed a family in the way my nutrition studies were training me, while trying to meet this on a parenting payment/unemployment benefits.
“This brought a real understanding of the value this research could bring. I felt like I had the skills to do it, plus I love good detective work…working to find things out and learn new things.”
At the beginning of June, 2022, Meron is just a few weeks from submitting her PhD, has already had four related journal articles published*, and has been recognised for her research: in 2020 she was awarded the Queensland Branch of the Public Health Association of Australia HDR Excellence Prize, for the quality and benefit of her work.
Most excitingly though, Meron says, is that her work is in the process of creating real change to support people to consume a healthy diet.
“A non-government agency is using the protocol I developed to create data to advocate for increased welfare and minimum wage incomes,” she says.
“It’s a life goal to do something useful for the world and this could make a difference.”
Meron is further contributing to the research base through assisting with the RE-FRESH COACH project which focuses on the CO-creation and evaluation of food environments to Advance Community Health.
She describes herself as “extremely lucky” to be surrounded by “amazing, accomplished people” who not only provide high-level direction and support but skills to survive in the academic world.
She is also grateful to be a member of RE-FRESH.
“The EMCR (early to mid-career researchers) meetings, seminars and presentations and all the things they come up with to support people at my stage to learn skills we need now and into the future are really good.
“The networking with others at a similar career stage is also very beneficial.”
Meron hopes for a long career in public health nutrition research – and Prof. Amanda Lee clearly sees Meron in this domain.
She describes her as a diligent, motivated and modest researcher, who she has enjoyed working with for six years.
““Meron has already made an amazing contribution by producing novel and highly practical evidence that should help improve health equity in Australia,” Amanda said.
*Meron’s four published papers are:
- Lewis, M., and Lee, A. J. (2021). “Dietary inequity? A systematic scoping review of dietary intake in low socio-economic groups compared with high socio-economic groups in Australia.” Public Health Nutrition 24(3), 393-411. doi: 10.1017/S1368980020003006
- Lewis, M., McNaughton, S. A., Rychetnik, L. and Lee, A. J. (2020). “A systematic scoping review of the habitual dietary costs in low socioeconomic groups compared to high socioeconomic groups in Australia.” Nutrition Journal 19(1): 139. doi: 10.1186/s12937-020-00654-5
- Lewis, M., McNaughton, S. A., Rychetnik, L. and Lee, A. J. (2021). “Cost and affordability of healthy, equitable and sustainable diets in low socioeconomic groups in Australia.” Nutrients 13(8): 2900. doi:10.3390/nu13082900
- Lewis, M., McNaughton, S. A., Rychetnik, L., Chatfield, M. D., and Lee, A. J. (2021) “Dietary intake, cost, and affordability by socioeconomic group in Australia.” International Journal of Behavioural Nutrition and Physical Activity, 18(24), p. 13315. doi:10.3390/ijerph182413315
PLUS – Letters to the Editor:
- Lewis, M., and Lee, A. J. (2020). “Affording health during the COVID-19 pandemic and associated economic downturn.” Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health 44(6), 519-520. doi:10.1111/1753-6405.13045
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