Psychology PhD examines 'food cues'

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Psychology PhD examines 'food cues'

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Published on 20 August 2014

A University of the Sunshine Coast researcher is examining whether food cues in the environment – such as supermarket, television and roadside advertising – are contributing to the obesity epidemic.

USC Psychology PhD student Karina Rune, 38, of Tewantin, plans to compare the eating habits of overweight people with their “attentional biases” – the type of attention they paid to various food cues.

“Obesity is described by the World Health Organisation as a global epidemic and in Australia, 54 percent of adults and 25 percent of children are overweight or obese,” said Ms Rune, who recently received one of three Rotary Postgraduate Scholarships for USC students in 2014.

“The direct and indirect cost of obesity and related illnesses are in excess of $37billion annually so it is imperative to research how we might reduce this trend.”

Ms Rune said previous studies had indicated that overweight people had more selective attention for food cues and spent more time focusing on them.

Her USC research will also look at what might stop people overeating as a result.

“That might involve modifying the environment or developing a program to retrain overweight people to become less focused on the food cues and help control the amount of food they eat,” she said.

Ms Rune, who also has a USC Bachelor of Social Science (Psychology) Honours, said the scholarship would be of significant benefit and free up time for study instead of paid work.

“As a single mother of three children, one of whom is severely disabled, this scholarship will go a long way in easing my financial difficulties,” she said.

Originally from Denmark, Ms Rune has a degree in history and language from the University of Edinburgh in Scotland and previously ran a clothing design company with her mother on the Sunshine Coast.

“USC was a great option for me – a very supportive environment with lots of mature-age students – and I thought Psychology would be a nice profession to help people,” she said.

“I’m really enjoying the whole process, especially the flexibility that allowed me to access lectures online and email reports when I was caring for my daughter in hospital in Brisbane. I’d like to consider a future in research and academia.”

The other two USC recipients of the $4,000 Rotary Postgraduate Scholarships were Bruce Randall (environmental science) for researching canarium nuts, and Daniel Meloncelli (analytical chemistry) for researching honey. The scholarships were established at USC in 2001.

- Julie Schomberg

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