An early career researcher is looking into ways in which her work in nutrition research can support Indigenous parents and families to make healthy food choices for their children.

Her team’s ultimate goal is empowering parents to help prevent diabetes and other chronic diseases in their children, later on in life.

Dr Athira Rohit is leading the HOT NORTH project ‘Exploration of child feeding practices in Indigenous Australians’ study, with Associate Professor Julie Brimblecombe, Associate Professor Louise Maple-Brown, Dr Renae Kirkham and Dr Leisa McCarthy.

“The study aims to shape healthy diets in Indigenous communities from early childhood, through supporting parents and families,” Athira said.

“It’s a preventative health approach to support parents and families to encourage their children to eat healthy diets and say ‘no’ to allowing their children unhealthy food.

“There are many factors, such as crowding, food security, high food costs and lack of adequate cooking facilities that contribute to shaping diets in Aboriginal communities.”

Athira worked with researchers from the Pregnancy and Neonatal Diabetes Outcomes in Remote Australia (PANDORA) team to explore factors impacting on parents’ food choices for their children in four remote and two urban Northern Territory communities.

“We want to develop a program informed by data, in collaboration with parents and communities, and develop a pilot test in one community through a parent focused nutrition program, which we are currently seeking funding for,” she said.

“For Indigenous families, approaches to parenting can be different than for non-Indigenous families; autonomy of children was something that emerged from our work and this is a concept that requires further exploration.  We will work closely with communities in incorporating these findings in our further work.”

Coming from a different country and set of cultural norms herself, Athira is particularly conscious of the different ways of parenting.

Graduating with a degree in optometry in India, Athira secured a PhD scholarship to further her studies in Sydney. However, she knew her passion was in research.

When her husband’s work took their family to Darwin, Athira seized the opportunity to join the nutrition team at Menzies School of Health Research as a research officer.

She is now continuing her passion for research through a Master of Public Health at Charles Darwin University with Menzies.