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Charlton, Karen Professor

Professor

  • Smart Foods Centre
  • Faculty of Science, Medicine and Health
  • Health Impact Research Cluster
  • School of Medicine

Top Publications


Research Overview


  • A/Prof Charlton is a nutritional epidemiologist who is Public Health Nutrition domain leader in the Nutrition & Dietetics programme, School of Medicine. She works at the interface between clinical care, primary care and public health and has extensive international experience in research into translation of research into policy.  Her research interests include diet and lifestyle interventions across the lifespan, including ageing in developing countries. Her work on iodine nutrition spans from the role of iodine fortification and supplementation on pregnancy outcomes to the link between cognition and iodine in older adults.  On a population level, Karen works on strategies to lower blood pressure and was instrumental in providing evidence for mandatory regulation for salt target levels in various foods in South Africa.

Available as Research Supervisor

Selected Publications


Investigator On


Impact Story


  • Karen has led a multi country study to evaluate the effectiveness of South Africa’s salt reduction policy. In 2016, informed by her doctoral research, the government implemented mandatory maximum salt targets for a wide range of processed foods. She led a team that conducted the first evaluation of the effectiveness of this policy because of its global relevance to other countries following suit, including Australia. Using a pre-post study design with funding of over $1million provided by Bloomberg Philanthropy Foundation., an evaluation study was nested in the ongoing WHO-SAGE cohort study in low-middle income countries. Leveraging this large study, her team was able to assess 24hr urinary sodium concentrations in both South Africa and Ghana (a control country with no salt reduction policy) in Wave 2 (Pre) and Wave 3 (Post). It was found that population-level salt intake fell in South Africa by 1.16g/day, exceeding the previously modelled estimate of 0.85g/day.  Despite this, the high reported level of salt being added during cooking and the fact that a third of the sample still had salt intakes >5g/day indicates that a more multi-pronged approach that includes nutrition education, and possibly improved availability of low sodium salt replacements, is required. This implementation research is a world first natural experiment that will <strong>guide salt reduction policy in other countries </strong>and <strong>advance global strategies</strong> to reduce population-level BP through food policy initiatives. Already, the multi-country team of researchers has published 13 scientific publications. Data has been disseminated through three <strong>high level stakeholder meetings</strong> (South Africa: 2016; 2018 and Ghana: 2019), thus ensuring <strong>rapid uptake of research findings</strong> by end-users. The project also informed methodology for assessment of salt intake, showing that a single 24hr urine collection is as valid as three repeated 24hr collections in large scale surveys, but that spot urine samples cannot replace 24hr collections. Given that most countries fortify table salt with iodine (universal salt iodisation), salt reduction strategies may inadvertently lower iodine intake. This project allowed for simultaneous assessment of compatibility of these two public health policies and identified that the salt iodisation programme may need to be revisited in order to prevent re-emergence of iodine deficiency as salt intake from processed foods decreases. In order to encourage systematic monitoring and surveillance of the food system in South Africa, Prof Charlton has obtained a Resolve to Save Lives LINKS philanthropy research grant (USD101,000) to work with in-country partners from NGOs and academia to develop a feasible model.
  • <p>The seed of inspiration for Karen Charlton’s career was planted in her youth. Growing up in Zambia and Botswana, she witnessed the harsh impact of environmental conditions on food security caused by years of drought.</p><p>Her path to academia has been a winding one, but the influence of Associate Professor Charlton’s teenage years is clear: from her advocacy for evidence based approaches to nutritional health policy, to her commitment to building capacity in nutritionists from low-middle income countries (she currently supervises three PhD students from Africa – from Nigeria, Kenya and Ghana - as well as one from Brazil).</p><p>Completing an undergraduate degree in zoology in South Africa, Karen then shifted her focus from animals to people and undertook postgraduate studies in dietetics in the UK. It was here that she became interested in how diet and nutrition impacted the maintenance of physical and cognitive  function in older adults.</p><p>After a brief stint as a clinical dietitian in England, Karen returned to South Africa to take up a research position in gerontology at the University of Cape Town, where she contributed much-needed information in the Southern African region on nutrition and ageing which supported changes in aged-care services.</p><p>A decade later, she became the Head of the Division of Nutrition and Dietetics at the University of Cape Town, where she advocated for a nutritional perspective within the prestigious Department of Medicine at the Groote Schuur Hospital. It was in this role that Karen developed a passion for public health and taking a preventative rather than curative approach, and decided to embark on a PhD at the relatively later age of 39.</p><p>One of her proudest achievements is that her PhD work on strategies to lower blood pressure formed the basis of evidence that encouraged the South African government to be the first country globally to adopt mandatory legislation – that came into effect in June 2016 - to limit the salt levels in many processed foods. This is predicted to have a profound effect on lowering blood pressure, and risk of stroke, across the entire population.</p><p>Since arriving in Australia and at UOW in 2006, Karen has recalibrated her research, while maintaining an interest in nutrition research in Africa.  She has worked on food security with fisheries colleagues in the Pacific region, and partnered with fruit farmers and agriculturalists to conduct trials on the impact of cherries and plums on cognitive function in people with dementia. She engaged with Meals on Wheels services to improve home meal deliveries. As well, she actively promotes public debate and policy change in the areas of nutrition, food security and diet.</p><p>“I hope to shape people’s thinking about new ways to approach old problems. The big challenge for future nutrition graduates is to ensure that human health and planetary health can exist side by side. Feeding the predicted 9 billion people in 2050, while ensuring sustainability of our natural resources, will require brainpower, willpower and government investment in science, agriculture and climate change." she said.</p>

Available as Research Supervisor

Advisees


  • Graduate Advising Relationship

    Degree Research Title Advisee
    Doctor of Philosophy Dietary interventions to improve gut health and clinical outcomes in chronic kidney disease
    Doctor of Philosophy "It's no choking matter!": Rectifying Texture Modified Food 'Inconsistencies' in Residential Aged Care Host, Alison
    Doctor of Philosophy Impact of Vitamin D status on adiposity and diabetes risk: A multi country study Vearing, Bec
    Doctor of Philosophy Harnessing the power of plants: Using phytochemicals on cognition, anxiety and depression as well as underlying mechanisms May, Naomi
    Doctor of Philosophy Nutrition Recommendations For Individuals Living With Social Disadvantage Vaiciurgis, Verena
    Doctor of Philosophy Vitamin D supplementation in Type 2 diabetes Lorzadeh, Elnaz
    Doctor of Philosophy Synergistic Effects of Fibre, Probiotics and Polyphenols on Physical and Cognitive Health Outcomes Cosier, Denelle

Top Publications


Research Overview


  • A/Prof Charlton is a nutritional epidemiologist who is Public Health Nutrition domain leader in the Nutrition & Dietetics programme, School of Medicine. She works at the interface between clinical care, primary care and public health and has extensive international experience in research into translation of research into policy.  Her research interests include diet and lifestyle interventions across the lifespan, including ageing in developing countries. Her work on iodine nutrition spans from the role of iodine fortification and supplementation on pregnancy outcomes to the link between cognition and iodine in older adults.  On a population level, Karen works on strategies to lower blood pressure and was instrumental in providing evidence for mandatory regulation for salt target levels in various foods in South Africa.

Selected Publications