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Esther Curtin

PhD student

Healthy Places, Healthy Planet

London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM)

Project title

Investigating the role of mobile apps in promoting behaviour change towards more sustainable and healthier diets. 

Project summary

I am taking a mixed-methods approach to explore how mobile apps can accelerate dietary change towards more sustainable and healthy diets. Such diets typically involve limiting unsustainably-sourced animal-based foods in favour of more plant-based, local, and seasonal foods. My first study is a systematic review of app effectiveness for dietary behaviour change across the social practices of shopping, cooking, and eating. In my data synthesis, I will map the interventions according to the content, target determinants, and size and equitability of the health and environmental gains. Following my systematic review, I plan to compare the features of commercially-available apps to those identified as effective in the trial literature, and then conduct an ethnographic observational study to explore people’s experiences using apps in their daily routines and their barriers and facilitators to continued usage. In addition, I am setting up a public advisory group (called Dietary change for Greater Environmental Sustainability; DIGEST) with colleagues across two faculties at LSHTM. I plan to run interactive sessions with public members throughout my PhD, which will inform the design of my studies. Overall, I hope my PhD findings will generate crucial evidence to inform evidence-based development of apps to promote dietary change towards healthier and more climate-friendly diets.

Esther's Q&A

  • What has been your career journey so far?

    After completing my masters at the University of Bristol, I took on a Research Associate role where I was the lead qualitative researcher on two SPHR process evaluations. As these were existing interventions in practice, one in secondary schools (Peer Education Project) and the other NHS-based (Assessing a Distinct Improving Access to Psychological Therapies service), I gained lots of experience in stakeholder engagement and collaboration. I then embarked on my PhD journey within SPHR.

  • Why did you choose to do a PhD in public health research?

    I have always been interested in the role of communities and society in shaping health and wellbeing, and the clear disparities we see among populations. I feel that taking a public health approach is key to designing services and programmes across the public and private sectors to benefit whole populations.

  • What is your research focused on?

    My research interests lie in using mixed methods to investigate the determinants of diet-related behaviours and design interventions accordingly. I am motivated by finding innovative (and digital) ways to facilitate equitable behaviour change.

  • Why is it important?

    I believe in the power of both quantitative and qualitative approaches to properly understand health needs and evaluate interventions robustly. I also feel as though the role of our digital environment can be better harnessed to improve health, given the increasing access to internet and mobile phones in today’s society.

  • What do you like about being a part of the NIHR School for Public Health Research?

    I really enjoy the supportiveness of the SPHR community, and the abundance of training resources and opportunities on offer.

  • What skills have you learnt and/or are hoping to learn as part of your PhD?

    The main skills I would like to develop are systematic reviewing, public involvement and engagement, and ethnographic observation.

  • What do you hope to do after completing your PhD?

    Providing my PhD findings suggest that apps are a promising approach, I would like to pursue a post-doc position to bring my ideas to life to co-design an app with the target population.

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