School of Population Health

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Non-Communicable Disease Research

The Non-Communicable Disease Research Stream consists of an active cluster of researchers within the School of Population Health. With a wide array of expertise, the Stream Members have an inclusive approach promoting collaboration between researchers in order to deliver real-world solutions and impact on improving population health.  

Expertise varies from birth and pregnancy outcomes, child and adolescent health, ageing, diet and nutrition, smoking, alcohol, physical activity, obesity, mental health and psychosocial factors, social determinants of health, health inequalities, air pollution, environmental health, green space, urban health, migrant populations, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health, eHealth, mHealth, big data analytics and cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease, cancer and diabetes.


Dr Blessing Akombi-Inyang
Associate Lecturer Global Health

Dr Blessing Akombi-Inyang is an emerging early career researcher in global health specializing in maternal, adolescent and child health, including childhood under-nutrition, the double burden of malnutrition and adolescent pregnancy. Her research focuses on providing evidence for community-based interventions to improve health outcomes among vulnerable populations particularly in developing countries. Blessing has a growing interest in migrant health within Australia particularly in the aspects of nutrition and lifestyle transition post-migration. Dr Akombi-Inyang is currently an Associate Lecturer in the School of Population Health. She co-convenes courses offered in the Master of Public Health (MPH), Master of Global Health (MGH), Master of Infectious Diseases Intelligence (MIDI) and Master of Health Management (MHM) programs.


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Dr Jasim Anwar
Visiting Fellow

Jasim Anwar is a senior-level development consultant and a public health specialist, more than 15 years of experience with UN agencies and various Governments. His research interests include Maternal and Perinatal Mortality, Mortality Surveillance, Information System, Program and Project evaluation, Civil Registration and Vital Statistics, Socio-economic Assessment, Policy and Strategic Development and Medical Education.


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Stephanie Colbert
PhD School of Population Health 

Stephanie Colbert is a second year PhD student in the School of Population Health supervised by A/Prof Xiaoqi Feng, Prof Robyn Richmond, Dr Claire Wilkinson and Dr Louise Thornton. Stephanie’s PhD research will investigate online alcohol sales and home delivery in Australia, with the aim of informing improved regulation of the industry. Her research will include an international policy review, a study on the marketing practices of online alcohol retailers, and a survey and qualitative interviews with people who utilise online alcohol delivery services. Before completing her Master of Public Health at UNSW in 2016, Stephanie completed a Bachelor of Health Science and Master of Teaching.


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Associate Professor Xiaoqi Feng
Associate Professor in Urban Health and Environment; NHMRC Career Development Fellow

Xiaoqi Feng (‘Xiao’, pronounced ‘Shao’) leads a program of research focused on social and environmental factors that shape health, developmental trajectories and inequities across the lifecourse. Xiao applies multilevel and longitudinal models to analyse health, healthcare and mortality data linked with indicators of urban green space, air pollution, heat island effects and food environment using Geographic Information Systems (GIS). Xiao has collaborated widely with leading researchers in North America, Western Europe and East Asia. She successfully translated research findings into policy and practice within the health and urban planning sectors in Australia.


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Dr Rose Leontini

Rose Leontini teaches Public Health Ethics and Professionalism in postgraduate and undergraduate courses in the Faculty of Medicine. She has an interdisciplinary background in health sociology and health ethics, with research interests in youth alcohol use, socio-ethical dimensions of genetic testing, the sociology of health and illness, and illness narratives. She has recently completed two studies funded by VicHealth and the ARC on alcohol use and harm minimisation among university students. She is convener of the Ethics Community of Practice at UNSW Medicine, member of the SESLHD Human Research Ethics Committee, and Member of the Health Professional Councils of NSW


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Professor Teng Liaw
Director, WHO Collaborating Centre on eHealth & Professor of General Practice

Teng Liaw is a clinician scientist and informatician. He leads a digital health program focused on mobile health and the quality and interoperability of real-world data stored in health information systems. The vision is harnessing artificial intelligence and digital tools ethically and effectively to achieve universal health coverage and sustainable development goals within a framework of digital health maturity of individual citizens and health professionals, organisations and system. His educational interest is building capacity in implementation and evaluation of digital health in low and middle-income countries directly and through the WHO.


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Dr Rona Macniven
Research Fellow, School of Population Health, UNSW

Dr Rona Macniven specialises in physical activity, sport, falls prevention, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health and public health research. Her research examines physical health and social and emotional wellbeing and the impact of physical activity and sport across the lifespan, particularly among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Rona co-ordinates research on the Ironbark project, a multi-site, multi-institutional cluster randomised controlled trial to prevent falls among 600 Aboriginal adults age 45 years and. She also leads other epidemiological and community evaluation research studies in collaboration with multiple academic institutions and community groups, including Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services.


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Dr Claire O’Connor
Research fellow, HammondCare & Conjoint Lecturer, School of Population Health, UNSW

Claire O'Connor is a research fellow at the Centre for Positive Ageing, HammondCare, a conjoint lecturer in the School of Population Health, UNSW, and is a registered occupational therapist (AHPRA). Her research focuses on people living with dementia, their families and supporters, with particular interest in non-pharmacological intervention to maximise engagement, functioning, independence, and to support behaviour management. Combining her clinical training in occupational therapy and research skills, Claire is passionate about contributing to research that is meaningful to people impacted by dementia and is particularly interested in the translation and implementation of research to generate positive change.


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Professor Alta (AE) Schutte
Theme Lead: Cardiac, Vascular and Metabolic Medicine, Faculty of Medicine & Professorial Fellow, The George Institute for Global Health

Alta has extensive experience working in the field of hypertension and cardiovascular disease as part of global projects. Her work in the early detection and prevention of hypertension across the lifecourse, biomarker and -omics work, but also global awareness campaigns and public health strategies, have culminated in working with global organisations such as the World Health Organization, World Heart Federation and her leadership in the 2020 International Society of Hypertension Global Hypertension Practice Guidelines.


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Adjunct Professor Freddy Sitas
Director, Centre for Primary Health Care and Equity

Freddy Sitas has a 25-year track record of developing significant epidemiological infrastructure studies designed to quantify the main drivers of cancer and other chronic diseases in Australia (e.g. 45 and Up Study, Cancer Lifestyle and Evaluation of Risk Study) and internationally (Johannesburg Cancer Study, South African Smoking Mortality Study). He has active projects, particularly on the role of smoking, BMI, infections including COVID-19 on premature hospitalisation and mortality. He is an Oettlè Memorial Medal recipient for his contribution to cancer research.


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Associate Professor Niamh Stephenson
Associate Professor in Social Science

Niamh researches the roles public health plays in social and political change in health domains and beyond. Her current ARC Discovery examines how public health work on social and health inequities is being shaped by new technological possibilities for accessing, linking and analysing population data. Former project’s include analyses of: transformations in the global response to HIV (book, Socialising the Biomedical Turn in HIV Prevention, co-authored with Susan Kippax, 2016); and of the intersections between 21st century shifts in the politics of health, labour and migration (book, Escape Routes: Control and Subversion in the 21st Century, 2008). She has published in the fields of sociology of health & medicine, social research, cultural studies and qualitative research methods.


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Professor Richard Taylor

Richard Taylor MBBS(USyd), DTMH(ULon), FRCP(UK), PhD(USyd), FAFPHM studied at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. He was Medical Epidemiologist for Pacific Islands at South Pacific Commission (Noumea, New Caledonia). He introduced Masters of International Public Health (MIPH) while at USyd, University of Queensland, and University of New South Wales (UNSW) Schools of Public Health, where he is Professor of International and Public Health. Research/service involves non-communicable diseases, perinatal/maternal mortality and external cause epidemiology in Asia Pacific states, and in Australia and New Zealand, including in Indigenous populations. Publications to mid-2020 are 486, including 277 in refereed scientific journals.


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Dr Luna Xu
Scientia Lecturer, Heart Foundation Post-doctoral Fellow

Luna Xu trained as a clinical nurse and an epidemiologist, her research focuses on exploring health behaviours and lifestyle components for primary and secondary prevention of non-communicable disease (NCD) in older people by using large datasets. Through her research, Luna aims to deliver robust evidence to promote peoples’ health behaviour, particularly on dietary behaviour. Her research aims to inform public health and clinical practice in NCD prevention, and also to provide strong evidence for health professionals to design effective health behaviour interventions to improve NCD prevention strategies, which will significantly reduce the burden of NCD in Australia and globally.


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Feasibility and efficacy of a UNSW Lifestyle Clinic virtual exercise physiologist intervention for improving physical activity and reducing high blood pressure: A pilot randomised controlled trial

You have responded to a poster, email or online short recruitment notice for the study. The study might be a good fit for you if you have high blood pressure and would you like to improve your physical fitness.

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CVMM Exercise Reduce Blood Pressure


Better Parks, Healthier for All?

Increasing evidence affirms that green spaces can make an important contribution to preventing poor mental health and cardiometabolic diseases. The NSW, Scottish and other governments are drawing upon this evidence for major investments in ‘quality’ green space provision. However, little research has been done on which green space qualities maximise impacts on levels of, and socioeconomic inequalities in, mental ill-health and cardiometabolic diseases.

See Project Details


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Classifying local environment attributes for healthier, more equitable child development

Theory and evidence suggests rapid physical and social development makes children more sensitive to the impacts of environmental exposures than adults. Paradoxically, children’s environmental health is an under-researched area according to the World Health Organization. What research there is comprises mostly cross-sectional studies and has focussed upon single exposures, ignoring spatiotemporal clustering of many environmental characteristics that may be especially harmful – or supportive – if experienced at different points in childhood.

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May Measurement Month

May Measurement Month is a global campaign led by the International Society of Hypertension to increase awareness of raised blood pressure. Since 2017 over 4 million adults have been screened globally.

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Evolving Risk Factors for Cancers in African Populations: Lifestyle, infection, genetic susceptibility, and cancer in South Africa: development of research capacity and an evidence base for cancer control (ERICA-SA)

The ERICA-SA project will utilise lifestyle data and biological samples collected by the Johannesburg Cancer Study (JCS) from 20,000 African cancer patients to investigate the causes of cancer and to enhance scientific research capacity in South Africa.

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Monitoring the smoking epidemic through questions on death notifications

Smoking questions were introduced in South Africa in 1997 and in Tianjin Municipality in 2011.  Accruing about 70,000 adult deaths per year with smoking information, these are some of the largest studies on smoking attributed mortality worldwide.  Current work includes quantification of risks of infectious respiratory disease, and measuring the benefits of cessation after hospitalisation.

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Realising big data’s potential to address social and health inequities

This project seeks to identify: how Australian public health’s uptake of big data opens, closes or reworks possibilities for addressing health inequities and social determinants of health; and what enables and constrains the uses of big data to support, rather than obfuscate, work on the social determinants of health.

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Atrial Fibrillation in older women: exploring how diet and nutrition can improve outcomes

The chronic cardiovascular disease atrial fibrillation (AF) – or irregular heartbeat, which can lead to stoke and heart failure – causes more deaths among women than men in Australia. While most research has, understandably, been aimed at preventing AF, relatively little work has focused on improving our understanding of how diet and nutrition can lead to better management of the disease and better outcomes for people with AF.

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Excel Calculation Tools

Down Excel Calculation Tools developed by Professor Richard Taylor for 1) Infant and under 5 mortality rates 2) Life table and probability of life expectancy 3) Fertility rates 4) Direct Age-Standardisation.

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Liaw ST, Harris M, Eapen V, Liu B, Kahn M, Sitas F, Muscatello D, Sharma, A, Hall J, Jonnagaddala J. Unifying and quality assuring disparate health silos with a common data model. (Funding NHMRC Partnerships APP1192469 $1,214,143; 2021-23)


Liaw ST, Ansari S. Health information systems assessment and digital health maturity assessment in the Pacific. (Funding: WHO Department of Pacific Support $78K 2020)