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IMU Alumna Honoured with 2021 Beryl Nashar Young Researcher Award

06 Dec 2021

Dr Chai Li Kheng (middle) with her PhD supervisors, Dr Tracy Burrows (left) and Dr Clare Collins (right)

When Dr Chai Li Kheng was embarking upon her Bachelor of Nutrition and Dietetics at IMU, she had envisioned herself working as a clinical dietitian and championing people’s health through Medical Nutrition Therapy. This remained her goal even after her credit transfer to The University of Newcastle in Australia for completion of her degree and upon graduating, Dr Chai pursued this passion while working in private practice. But soon after, she realised that many patients who suffered from chronic diseases could have better health conditions if their diet and lifestyle behaviours were improved.

“That’s when I started to see the role of nutrition in disease prevention and wanted to learn more about how it can be applied to improve health for the broader population,” she recalled.

Providence arrived for Dr Chai when she received a PhD scholarship opportunity to further her studies on digital interventions to improve children’s diet for obesity treatment and prevention. This had marked the starting chapter of her journey in becoming a successful researcher. Her accomplishments to date have been recognised internationally and she is certainly no stranger to awards.

Awards Won by Dr Chai
2016 Dietitians Australia Emerging Researcher Award
Queensland Children’s Hospital Precinct Early Career Researcher of the Year 2019, and
Best Oral Presentation at the 2020 Australia and New Zealand Obesity Society International Conference.

This year, she adds another feather to her cap as the proud recipient of the 2021 Beryl Nashar Young Researcher Award, one of the nine University of Newcastle Alumni Excellence Awards announced on 4 November 2021. In the Award’s 46-year history, the University of Newcastle has recognised 180 of their alumni achievers for their outstanding achievements across a diverse range of communities and industries.

Dr Chai’s work is nothing short of remarkable. She is currently working at Health and Wellbeing Queensland, the state’s first dedicated prevention agency. Always taking the hands-on approach, Dr Chai integrates research with practice as she works alongside other dedicated health professionals, communities, and policymakers.

Always the dietitian and a children’s health advocate, her research focuses upon using innovative technology to develop, deliver and evaluate nutrition plus lifestyle interventions to improve children’s health and diet quality. She is currently investigating strategies for obesity prevention through system changes associated with nutrition and physical activity.

Additionally, her work covers a broad spectrum of health promotion initiatives, such as improving fruit and vegetables consumption in primary school children, addressing remote food security in First Nation communities; and most interestingly, developing a novel technology-based healthy lifestyle programme for families and children.

Dr Chai credits resilience and persistence as her key to success.
“It’s the ability to bounce back quickly and press on when you face hurdles and setbacks,” she said. “This can-do attitude, in combination with zeal, is what will make you more successful in life.”

For individuals who are considering a career in the dynamic and expansive landscape of dietetics, Dr Chai’s advice is similarly elegant: “Follow your passion and do the things that feel great to you. Do not be afraid to take a path that may seem different from others. Your future is whatever you make it.”

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