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Hannah Brinsden

Hannah Brinsden 130x192Coming from a middle class background, with a stay at home mum, I was always fortunate enough to have good quality, nutritious and home cooked food. My mother was always adamant that my sister and I would eat the same food as her and my father rather than eating ‘kids foods’– so much so that I have memories of her rinsing curries with water when she made them too spicy!! From an early age, my sister and I were encouraged to make our own packed lunches and were taught how to cook and bake. I guess this is where my passion for good food first started, although I took it for granted at the time.

At secondary school the subjects I enjoyed most were food technology, biology, chemistry and sociology which pointed me in the direction of a degree in Nutrition & Food Science. Interestingly, I thought I wanted a job working in the food industry, however quickly realised this wouldn’t be for me. While I found my degree interesting, I could never quite get over the emphasis on individualised approaches to nutrition and adding nutritional value to food. For instance, we had an entire module focusing on gut micro flora and pro/prebiotics and another on product development! Even the public health modules had an emphasis on fortification to solve the world’s nutritional problems rather than making fundamental changes to the root causes of disease and inequality. Not that I want to do a disservice to the degree, it gave me a great foundation for nutrition, but it just didn’t offer an approach to nutrition that inspired me personally!

By the second year of my degree I had already made the decision that I did not want to work for the food industry and, against the advice of my department, made the decision not to do an industrial placement year with the majority of my colleagues. Instead, I spent my summer volunteering at the Food Commission, working on projects such as ‘Action on Additives’, researching and writing a report calling for out of home menu labelling to be introduced, and collecting examples of poor marketing activities, in particular examples of marketing to parents. This experience made me realise that a career in public health, fighting for the public good, was what I wanted to do!

After graduating with a first class honours, I landed myself a job working at Consensus Action on Salt & Health (CASH) alongside Professor Graham MacGregor – a key force in global salt reduction. Here I was involved with many aspects of the UK’s salt reduction strategy, in particular monitoring the salt content of processed foods and holding industry to account for our high salt diets. Other work included organising an annual ‘salt awareness week’, liaising with industry representatives and Government officials, media work, working with other health NGOs to improve food environments (e.g. campaigning for traffic light labels) and finally with producing resources and educational materials about the health effects of salt, and how intake can be reduced.

After 3 years at CASH, I recently started a new role with the International Association for the Study of Obesity (IASO) where I work with Tim Lobstein and Philip James to develop IASO’s policy and advocacy programme, in particular by developing materials to encourage members to get involved with advocacy to reduce obesity. I am also involved with the recently launched INFORMAS project, in particular with the output modules. As part of my role, I am also doing a PhD based at City University, London and supervised by Tim Lang.

I am interested in developing a better understanding of the conditions required for social change, in particular change within the food system to reduce NCDs (Non communicable diseases) and move towards a more sustainable food future. I am interested in the dynamics that exist between different actors and holding those responsible for NCDs to account for their actions. For instance, who has the most influence in initiating change? In what circumstances? How is this influence expressed? How can we improve the capacity of civil society to advocate in a way that initiates change? How can power dynamics be shifted away from corporate/private interests towards the public good? A challenging area of research, but one that I hope will be of value to a range of stakeholders all around the world. I hope that my work will help to shape future advocacy activities and help take action to reduce NCDs, and to hold corporate organisations to account for their actions.