Get to know our academics: Dr Julie Woods

Our next blog is from Dr Julie Woods. Julie is currently a Senior Lecturer in Public Health Nutrition with 35 years of experience working in food policy and regulation at local, state and national levels. She has been teaching food policy and food regulation for nearly 20 years. 

The three arms of her research work include: monitoring the changing food supply, particularly ultra-processed and discretionary foods; food labelling – front of pack schemes such as Health Star Rating, nutrition and health claims; and healthy and sustainable diets.  

As a long standing member of the Food and Nutrition Special Interest Group of the Public Health Association of Australia, Julie is actively involved in public health nutrition advocacy and she has represented this group on numerous food regulation and policy committees.

  1. What sparked your interest in food and nutrition?

I have been a vegetarian since the age of 12 (would have been earlier had I not been forced to eat meat!) and I have therefore always had an interest in food and nutrition to ensure I was eating the right foods to nutritionally replace meat. So I knew from an early age that I wanted to study nutrition. But I hated science in high school, so wasn’t sure I would actually get there.

Fortunately for me I had a brilliant science teacher in year 10 who made science interesting and this began my love of chemistry and biochemistry. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with the knowledge once I had it – I was most interested in finding out how nutrition works in the human body. There were a couple of options to do that study, either home economics or dietetics. I tried ‘home ec’ but got turned off by the textiles aspects so then applied for, and got accepted into, Deakin dietetics.

  1. Where was your first job?

My first job as a dietitian was at Royal Brisbane Hospital. Jobs were hard to come by in those days and so I leaped at the opportunity to move state and take up the role as a clinical dietitian. Little did I know that I would be thrown in at the deep-end, with responsibility for 12 wards including ICU, Oncology and being back up for the Burns Unit, as a new graduate! Fortunately I swam rather than sank – thanks to the great training I received and to the comradery of my peers – many of whom were also from Deakin and Victoria. 

  1. What prompted you to be an academic?

After several more years in clinical dietetics I realised that I was much more interested in preventing diet related disease than treating it. I went and did some further study in health promotion and public health. This then lead to getting a job with the Victorian Food and Nutrition Program, a VicHealth funded program that went for 6 years in the 90’s and focussed on population level, preventative strategies. The funding had actually been granted to Deakin University but the program ran outside of the University.

When the funding for it finished I stayed on at Deakin and did some work for the Commonwealth Government around developing the Public Health Nutrition workforce. This lead to becoming more involved in teaching and when I got an offer to help create the new dietetics course at Monash University I took it up. Being an academic in a newly created course means lots of curriculum development and teaching, and not much else. I soon learned that I needed to try and find some time for research and so while at Monash I undertook my PhD. Being an academic is challenging in terms of fitting everything in but there’s a wonderful diversity of roles/jobs that mean it’s never boring.

  1. What are you doing now in your role?

I came back to Deakin in 2014 and was teaching into both undergrad and postgrad nutrition courses and for the past few years I have been the Associate Head of School – Teaching and Learning (Food, Nutrition and Dietetics). I’m now transitioning towards retirement and working part time, teaching into the Masters of Dietetics, supervising PhD students, conducting some research and being deputy Course Director for postgrad nutrition.

  1. How would you briefly describe your current research to someone who is not familiar with your field of work?

My current research mainly looks at our modern food environment (i.e. what’s available for consumers to purchase), the role of the food industry in contributing to our current food environment and how we can use policy to change the food environment to promote healthier diets.

  1. What do you think will be the next most important development in the nutrition field?

I’m hoping that there will be a shift away from ultra-processed foods to more basic, minimally processed foods so that we can commence to tackle dietary and planetary health. Even though I’m a vegetarian I abhor the recent rise in “fake” meats as I see them as being just another ultra-processed food that has health and environmental consequences.

  1. Where do you see yourself in 5 years time?

Would love to say I’ll be travelling the world in my retirement (bliss) but I’m more likely to be taking to the streets to advocate for the urgent and necessary climate change policies we need!

Just for fun…

  1. What’s the best and worst piece of advice you’ve ever received?

Best: Don’t sweat the small stuff.

Worst: Buy this second hand car in England. The gear stick fell off in my hand in one of the busiest London intersections!

  1. What’s your favourite food?

That’s sooooo hard – there’s not just one! But mangoes have to be up there and chocolate.

  1. Where is the most interesting place you’ve been?

Doing the Tour de Mt Blanc in France. Fantastic scenery, challenging walking and beautiful French and Italian villages. Oh and did I mention the food?

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