Funded PhD Opportunity Influencing dietary behaviours in teenagers to reduce the risk of obesity: a mixed methods approach.

This opportunity is now closed.

Subject: Biomedical Sciences


The prevalence of overweight and obesity among children and adolescents aged 5-19 has risen from 4% in 1975 to approximately 20% in 2016 (NICE 2013) and evidence suggests that up to 79% of children who are obese in their early teens are likely to remain obese as adults ( NICE 2013). Overweight and obese children have an increased risk of developing chronic diseases for example type 2 diabetes which has increased recently in UK and previously unknown.

Obesity  is a disease of multiple aetiology and as such, recognises over 100 factors as influential in energy balance (Foresight report Butland et al 2007). Whilst the genetic predisposition to childhood obesity is well documented, evidence reports that 90% of cases are owing to environmental factors . Such factors include physical inactivity, large portion sizes and energy dense foods, characteristic of the ‘obesogenic’ environment children currently reside in.

A modern-shift in diet, including an increase in processed-food consumption and sugar sweetened beverages (SSBs) with a decrease of fruits and vegetables, has also been linked to the increase of childhood obesity (French et al. 2001; Ludwig et al. 2001). There is an increased interest in looking at food intake though rather than energy and nutrients alone as a determinant of risk among children, however, findings are also inconsistent (Emmett et al 2015).

This PhD uses a mixed method approach:

1) nutritional analysis of recently collected data collected as part of the 12 year follow up Belfast cohort of children who participated in the Hyperglycaemic and Adverse Pregnancy Outcomes (HAPO) study: an observational study investigating the risk of adiposity on chronic disease.

2) recruiting teenagers from local schools to participate in focus groups and design an appropriate educational resource and pilot this as a way to influence eating behaviours with respect to fruit and vegetables.

Preliminary analysis of data at 6 years identified children whose dietary patterns contained greater sugary-snacks and lower intakes of fruit and vegetables were at increased risk of being overweight. In addition previous work in University students showed that providing fruit and vegetables increased consumption, however information provided by social networks did not influence dietary behaviours.

The main objectives of the proposed PhD research will be met using a range of research methods to:

a) systematically review and evaluate the literature and other relevant sources of information to determine the influencers for dietary behaviours and most effective education methods in teenagers

b) to examine the changes in nutritional and physical activity over time in a cohort of  children from HAPO Family study .

c) undertake focus groups in teenagers to explore eating behaviours experiences, influencers and identify an appropriate education tool in this age group

d) design an educational tool to promote healthy eating and pilot this within a small number of teenagers

The PhD researcher will be encouraged to engage in personal development activities including attending and presenting results at relevant conferences.


Butland, B., Jebb, S., Kopelman, P., et al. (2007) Tackling Obesities: Future Choices – Project Report: 2nd Edition. Foresight: Government Office for Science. Available:

Emmett, P., Jones, L., Northstone, K. (2015) Dietary patterns in the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children. Nutrition Reviews, 73(S3), 207-230

French, S., Story, M., Jeffery, R. (2001) Environmental influences on eating and physical activity. Annual Review of Public Health, 22, 309–335

Ludwig, D., Peterson, K., Gortmaker, S. (2001) Relation between consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks and childhood obesity: a prospective, observational analysis. Lancet, 357(9255), 505-508.

NICE (2013) Weight management: lifestyle services for overweight or obese children and young people. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence. Available at:

World Health Organization (2010). Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity, and Health - Childhood overweight

Essential Criteria

  • Upper Second Class Honours (2:1) Degree or equivalent from a UK institution (or overseas award deemed to be equivalent via UK NARIC)
  • Sound understanding of subject area as evidenced by a comprehensive research proposal

Desirable Criteria

If the University receives a large number of applicants for the project, the following desirable criteria may be applied to shortlist applicants for interview.

  • First Class Honours (1st) Degree
  • Masters at 65%
  • Research project completion within taught Masters degree or MRES
  • Practice-based research experience and/or dissemination
  • Experience using research methods or other approaches relevant to the subject domain
  • Work experience relevant to the proposed project
  • Publications - peer-reviewed
  • Experience of presentation of research findings
  • A comprehensive and articulate personal statement
  • Relevant professional qualification and/or a Degree in a Health or Health related area


    Vice Chancellors Research Scholarships (VCRS)

    The scholarships will cover tuition fees and a maintenance award of £15,009 per annum for three years (subject to satisfactory academic performance). Applications are invited from UK, European Union and overseas students.


    The scholarship will cover tuition fees at the Home rate and a maintenance allowance of £15,009 per annum for three years. EU applicants will only be eligible for the fees component of the studentship (no maintenance award is provided).  For Non EU nationals the candidate must be "settled" in the UK.

Other information

The Doctoral College at Ulster University

Launch of the Doctoral College

Current PhD researchers and an alumnus shared their experiences, career development and the social impact of their work at the launch of the Doctoral College at Ulster University.

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My experience has been great and the people that I have worked with have been amazing

Kieran O'Donnell - 3D printing of biological cells for tissue engineering applications

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Completing the MRes provided me with a lot of different skills, particularly in research methods and lab skills.

Michelle Clements Clements - MRes - Life and Health Sciences

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Throughout my PhD I’ve been provided with continuous support and guidance by my supervisors and the staff at the University.I’ve also received many opportunities to further enhance my professional development in the form of teaching experience and presenting my work at conferences which will aid in my pursuit of a career in academia or industry.

William Crowe

Key Dates

Submission Deadline
Monday 18 February 2019
Interview Date
Weeks commencing 11, 18, 25 March 2019


Coleraine campus

Coleraine campus
Our coastal and riverside campus focussing on science and health

Contact Supervisor

Dr Alyson Hill

Other Supervisors

Apply online

Visit and quote reference number #342894 when applying for this PhD opportunity