Judy's research mainly focuses on developing ways in which we can talk about obesity sensitively yet effectively. Obesity is a complex, value-laden subject and people with obesity deserve to be treated with respect. However, healthcare professionals and the wider healthcare system also have an important obligation to provide accurate medical information and promote healthy behaviour change. Judy's work describes and evaluates different methods of communicating about obesity - particularly between healthcare professionals and their clients.
Judy is also interested more broadly in the role of food in our social world. Food does more than fulfill a biological need. It can be a source of great pleasure, although, for many, it can also cause guilt and anxiety. Food can be used to help cope with stressful situations and negative emotional states. Food also plays a vital role in how humans communicate within their social world. Food might be used to establish affiliation to particular groups and engender peer acceptance, to express love, sociability and hospitality, to demonstrate civilisation and self-control, and to express power within relationships and social status. Judy is particularly interested in how healthcare professionals bridge the gap between logical, unambiguous scientific data on the one hand, and the complicated, multiple functions that food has in their clients' lives on the other.
A major theme of Judy's research is childhood obesity; a condition described by the World Health Organization as one of the greatest health problems of the 21st Century.
Judy is currently leading the MoreTalk Study which aims to investigate how overweight and obese young people, and their parents/carers, think healthcare professionals should talk about bodyweight and weight-related behaviours. We know that many healthcare professionals are unsure as to how and when to raise the issue of bodyweight which children and their families. This project therefore aims to capture the views of those directly affected and pass them onto the medical and scientific community. It is hoped that this project will also provide valuable information upon which a training package for healthcare professionals can be developed. The research team includes Professor Paul Gately and Claire Curtis at MoreLife, Dr Rebecca Puhl at Yale University and Dr Amy McPherson at Holland Bloorview Kids Rehab Hospital. Dr McPherson is also leading on a scoping review of best practices in relation to talking with children and families about weight-related issues (funded by the Canadian Institute of Health Research).
Judy and Dr McPherson are also collaborating on a programme of research investigating weight management opportunities for children with disabilities. Despite the fact that the prevalence of overweight and obesity in children with disabilities is 2-3 times that of their typically developing peers and that overweight can be associated with significant secondary conditions and symptoms, this is a hugely under-researched area. This programme of research is supported by the Canada/UK University Partnerships Program, the Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus Association of Canada, and the Ward Family Foundation.
MATERNAL AND EARLY LIFE NUTRITION
Judy is a member of the Early Prediction and Prevention of Obesity during Childhood (EPPOC) team which is interested in the early identification of infants 'at risk' of later obesity and the implementation of appropriate weight management strategies in the first year of life. The EPPOC team have recently developed a clinical guideline for UK health visitors to use with parents of infants at risk of developing childhood obesity. Future work will seek to evaluate the implementation of this guideline and to develop methods of communicating obesity risk information to parents. Research to date has been supported by the Burdett Trust for Nursing Studies and National Institute for Health Research Collaboration for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care - Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire and Lincolnshire (NIHR CLAHRC-NDL).
She is also a member of the Managing Weight in Pregnancy (MAGIC) Study team along with Dr Sarah McMullen, Professor Simon Langley-Evans, Ms Amanda Avery, Dr Preeti Jethwa, Dr Moira Taylor and Ms Joanne Pearce. MAGIC is a longitudinal observation study investigating biopsychosocial and behavioural predictors of maternal weight throughout pregnancy and up to 1 year post-partum. The team is currently analyzing the baseline data and collecting the 32 week gestation and 2 week post-partum data.
COMMUNICATION OF OBESITY RISK, AND WEIGHT STIGMA
Research clearly shows that many of us - including healthcare professionals, researchers, policy makers, commercial companies - hold negative attitudes towards people with obesity. Not only do these negative attitudes conflict with Department of Health best practice guidelines but research demonstrates that they also have serious consequences for the clinical treatment of obese patients and the effectiveness of public health interventions. Judy has recently collaborated with Dr Rebecca Puhl (Yale University) on three studies which aimed to identify and reduce weight stigma among trainee healthcare professionals, and has recently presented this body of work as a keynote presentation at the UK's first conference on weight stigma. She hopes to expand on the early success of this pilot work and develop a UK-specific anti-stigma media intervention for trainee healthcare professionals.
Judy is also very interested in exploring interactions between patients and healthcare professionals in diet-related clinical encounters more generally. She has recently worked with Ms Kirsten Whitehead, Dr Victoria Tischler and Professor Simon Langley-Evans to develop a reliable and valid instrument to assess dietitians' communication skills during consultations; the DIET-COMMS scale. The team hopes to secure funding to develop and evaluate a training package incorporating the DIET-COMMS scale to improve dietitians' communication skills.
Methodologically, Judy has experience in working with multivariate statistics on large, existing datasets (England Longitudinal Survey of England, the Millennium Cohort and the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children), and of psychometric scale development. She is also very interested in using rigorous qualitative research techniques and has published several qualitative and mixed-methods studies. She was recently invited to write a series of four articles for the Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics on qualitative research methodology. These articles now form part of JHND's Instructions to Authors and have been widely cited.