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Q&A with Dr Laura Alston



Researcher Q&A


Q&A with Dr Laura Alston

Dr Laura Alston is a Heart Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow at Deakin University. She is also the Director of Research at Colac Area Health and an Accredited Practising Dietitian. Her research focuses on the impact of diet on heart disease rates in rural communities. Her research aims to support health services in rural parts of Australia to advocate for better access to research evidence, healthy foods, and to promote healthy food choices. The goal is to help to improve the heart health of people living in these regions.

What are you currently researching?

My research looks at food environments, the health of communities and dietary patterns in rural areas. This will help to inform how we can support health services to encourage healthy choices in their communities. For example, I have recently led a co-design study with rural retailers to understand how we can assist them to promote healthy options on their menu. I have also shown that dietary patterns are different between rural and metropolitan areas, meaning that we need action that is tailored to where people live.

What difference will your research make to people’s cardiovascular health in Australia?

People living in remote parts of Australia have a greater burden of heart disease than those living in major cities. One of the reasons for this is that it can be more challenging to access heart-healthy foods in these areas, making it difficult for people to make healthy food choices. Health services play a big role as leaders in rural communities and are well-placed to promote healthy food choices. By supporting health services to support their communities, we can help prevent heart disease and save more lives.

What motivated you to do your research?

I am a dietitian by background, so I understand the barriers that many people face when it comes to having a healthy diet. I am a rural Australian myself, so I hope my research will find ways to make our communities healthier, so that all Australians have the opportunity to live longer, heart-healthy lives.

Are there achievements or discoveries from the past year you can share with us?

My research has found that by supporting people to follow healthy eating guidelines, we could prevent up to half of lives lost to heart disease. This study gained media attention, including radio interviews and articles in rural newspapers across Victoria. My PhD research was also recognised by the World Heart Federation in 2019. I was selected to be a part of the World Heart Federation's Emerging Leaders Programme. This group included 24 other emerging heart disease researchers from around the world.

What role has Heart Foundation funding had in your career journey?

Heart Foundation funding has provided the opportunity to take an essential step towards achieving my five-year career plan – to help reduce the impact of heart disease by empowering all Australians living with chronic conditions to be active participants in their own healthcare. The first step in my plan is to build trust and confidence in digital health. Following this, I plan to apply these findings to all chronic conditions associated with heart disease. Without this incredible and generous support, I would not be able to do this.

Do you have a message for Heart Foundation supporters?

Without the support of Heart Foundation donors, this research would not be possible. There is still a lot of research to be done in rural communities, so this opportunity is vital to having an impact on heart disease in these areas. I look forward to creating high quality evidence that will improve the heart health of rural communities, both now and in the future. I will be forever grateful to Heart Foundation supporters for their generosity. You have given me the opportunity to make a real difference.

Last updated13 December 2023