Who Dr Stephanie Partridge, University of Sydney
What Dr Stephanie Partridge harnesses technology and nutrition science to improve youth wellbeing. Putting adolescent experiences at the heart of her research and advocacy, she collaborates with young people to learn how technology can help them live a healthier lifestyle. Her work has informed major public health policies in Australia and globally.
Winner of the 2023 Eureka Prize for Emerging Leader in Science
Nine out of 10 Australian teenagers don’t eat a well-balanced diet – a concerning statistic. What are some of the key factors contributing to this?
It is a concerning statistic, and it’s a consequence of the environment in which young people are growing up. Our society doesn't always support young people to eat well. Take, for instance, the convenience of fast foods. Research has shown that the increased availability of these options, especially around high schools, can drive unhealthy food choices among the youth. Add to this the rising popularity of meal delivery apps. Backed by celebrity endorsements from stars like Snoop Dogg, Katy Perry and Kim Kardashian, these massive global companies entice young people into the ease of ordering fast food right to their doors.
On the flip side, there's a lack of health promotion strategies tailored specifically for adolescents. Many of these strategies, even if well-intentioned, aren't designed with young people and therefore don’t consider their unique needs. Consequently, young people are navigating an environment that neither encourages healthy eating nor provides age-appropriate strategies to guide them through these challenges.
Young people are navigating an environment that neither encourages healthy eating nor provides age-appropriate strategies to guide them through these challenges.
How are you leveraging the benefits of digital technology to positively influence adolescent behaviours?
My research aims to improve adolescent health within an ever evolving, interconnected digital landscape by making them front and centre of the research that affects them. A key area of the digital technology I am investigating is meal delivery apps, evaluating how health promoting policies might help young people make healthier food choices.
Additionally, I use digital technologies – like messaging apps, social media , and telehealth – to reach and support young people. Our Health4Me intervention exemplifies this approach, transforming everyday digital technologies into health-promotion channels. Throughout, I’m committed to ensuring digital advancements remain inclusive, benefiting every adolescent.
Did you set out to focus on the lifestyle behaviours of this age group when you started your research career, or did this come about more organically?
My path into adolescent health evolved organically and I'm glad it did. Initially, I was attracted to the digital health given the positive impact it could have on population health. What's made this journey rewarding is working closely with young people. Their insights, especially in digital health, are invaluable since they're often the first to embrace new technologies. Plus, the community of researchers and health professionals in adolescent health has been supportive and kind, making this area even more fulfilling.
What have been some of the most interesting outcomes of your work to date?
One interesting outcome has been the establishment and contributions of my youth advisory group, known as the Health Advisory Panel for Youth at The University of Sydney (HAPYUS). I founded this group to empower adolescents, giving them a voice in research priorities and involve them as co-researchers. Evaluating such initiatives isn't always straightforward within traditional scientific structures, pushing me to adopt innovative and contemporary methods of knowledge sharing.
A proud moment was an article authored by the group, which was published in The Lancet Child and Adolescent Health, a journal focused on research in the fields of health psychology and paediatrics. Additionally, our investigations into the effects of meal delivery apps on dietary choices highlighted a new challenge for young people’s nutrition, prompting responses from major corporations and calling attention to policy changes. These outcomes highlight important issues for young people but have also led to new innovative research ideas that we are working on now.
What are some of the larger impacts you hope to see from your research in the future?
Thinking big picture. I hope to harness the potential of digital technology to create healthy societies and improve health of adolescents. As digital technologies continue to evolve, I want to ensure they do so in tandem with our society's health and well-being. I aim for our research to create positive policy changes, ensuring that meal delivery apps and similar platforms prioritise healthful food choices for customers. I hope to establish scalable and accessible health programs that engage adolescents across Australia, providing them with support for their health and wellbeing.
But what drives me the most is ensuring adolescents' needs, priorities, views and values inform all aspects of my research. By creating opportunities for young people to work as co-researchers, I hope to build leadership opportunities and challenge traditional scientific structures, making science accessible to everyone. I am excited to see how these kinds of opportunities impact their lives.
What drives me the most is ensuring adolescents' needs, priorities, views and values inform all aspects of my research.
What does winning a Eureka Prize mean to you?
I am very honoured to receive this award and for the spotlight it brings to adolescent health. Adolescents are largely forgotten in prevention research. We need to move towards innovative prevention solutions that actively engage young people as co-researchers. I am most proud my team, particularly my PhD students and youth advisors, who are share my vision and drive for prevention science and who constantly motivate and inspire me.
The Australian Museum Eureka Prizes are the country’s most comprehensive national science awards, honouring excellence across the areas of research & innovation, leadership, science engagement, and school science.