Human Nutrition PhD Research Focuses on the Role of Nutrition in Preventing Disease
Dr Keiron Audain of Trinidad has been awarded his PhD in Human Nutrition after completing his thesis on the topic: A Comparative Analysis of the Nutrition Status, Nutrition Knowledge and Food Frequency of Adolescents Attending an Urban Versus a Peri-Urban School in Hilton, KwaZulu-Natal.
Audain’s academic background prepared him for the topic he selected, having completed his BSc in Pharmaceutical Chemistry at Queen Mary University Of London and then doing his first Masters degree in Molecular Biology and Pathology of Viruses at the Imperial College London, followed by a second Masters at UKZN in Medical Biochemistry.
Audain was intrigued by the role played by nutrition in alleviating some of the major health concerns impacting Africa and other developing countries, especially chronic and infectious diseases and malnutrition.
‘My interest in nutrition stemmed from my interest in its relationship with the onset of disease, particularly HIV,’ explained Audain. ‘I believe that poor nutrition plays an underlying role in many of the diseases that affect both the developed and developing world today, and improving nutrition can be an important preventative strategy.’
The research conducted by Audain, which has so far produced two published peer-reviewed papers, yielded interesting results on the nutrition status of learners in both high and low income brackets.
Poor nutrition overall was observed in adolescents from both schools studied, with Audain finding that obesity was more prevalent among male learners from the high income school and among female scholars in the low-income school. The obesity in each group, however, stemmed from different causes; the high-income students reportedly ate more fatty red meat and the lower-income students consumed more fatty snacks, such as vetkoek and samosas. The subjects’ choice of food contributing to obesity reflects their contrasting socio-economic backgrounds, nonetheless, poor habits were observed in both groups.
Audain also recorded that stunted growth was apparent in the low-income learners, indicating a double-burden of obesity and stunting which, literature suggests, can play a role in increased disease risk in adulthood.
Audain was able to present his research in the form of a poster presentation at the African Nutrition and Epidemiology Conference (ANEC) VI in July 2014, as well as at the National Nutrition Congress held in Johannesburg in September 2014. Interest in his work demonstrates the increasing concern around adolescent obesity and the factors contributing to the condition.
An additional motivator behind Audain’s work was his first-hand experience of the negative impact poor eating habits in adolescence had on his health later in life. Audain’s hope is that studies like this one can illuminate the crucial issue of adolescent nutrition and contribute to the introduction of a nutrition intervention strategy.
Audain aims to continue his research in this field now that he has his PhD, and is exploring post-doctorate research opportunities in South Africa and around the world.
His time at UKZN has provided Audain with a beneficial, multidisciplinary outlook on his work, having been a part of both the Medical Biochemistry and the Dietetics and Human Nutrition disciplines at the University.
‘I think that the close proximity and interaction between the Human Nutrition and Food Security departments here at the School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences (SAEES) is a great thing, as these two research areas are inextricably linked,’ said Audain.
Audain credited Professor Anil Chuturgoon from UKZN’s discipline of Medical Biochemistry for his part in assisting him to come to South Africa and embark on research. Audain also thanked his colleague and friend Dr Francis Zotor at the University of Health and Allied Sciences for his mentorship, academically and personally. He acknowledged the influence of Dr Paul Amuna at the University of Greenwich for inspiring him as an African academic championing nutrition and health issues on a global stage. Audain’s former supervisor at the Imperial College London, Dr Simon Jeffs, also played a role in supporting Audain in his work over the years.
He expressed heartfelt gratitude for the support of his mother, friends and family both in his home country and in South Africa.
In the discipline of Dietetics and Human Nutrition, Audain’s supervisors, Professor Frederick Veldman and Mrs Suna Kaisser had been ‘infectiously passionate’ about his project and assisted every step of the way.
Kassier said that the study provided a snapshot of the nutritional status of future South African adults, as weight status was known to track into adulthood. This, she said, would form an indicator of adult onset lifestyle diseases, such as diabetes and high blood pressure, which are linked to body mass index (BMI). Audain’s revelations of the complicated relationship between obesity and socio-economic factors also could provide important insight into the discussion around obesity in South Africa.
Audain said he applauded the efforts South African researchers are making in improving nutrition outcomes in the country and throughout Africa, and said he would like to see more South Africans from communities most affected by nutrition-related illnesses join the dialogue and become part of the solution.