Public Health

Public Health

Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular and renal disease are major contributors to the excessive morbidity and much shorter life expectancy experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. These conditions not only occur more frequently, but their age of onset is earlier and their consequences are more severe than for other Australians. These conditions are causing the most damage in what should be the most productive time of life. For example, in the 20-50 year age group the prevalence of diabetes is 10-15 times higher in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples than in other Australians. Addressing these concerns is the primary focus of the researchers in the Public Health and Population Health and Nutrition Groups.

Researchers in the Public Health and the Population Health and Nutrition Groups are located throughout Australia, including Queensland, Victoria, New South Wales and South Australia.  In South Australia, researchers are located in the Centre for Population Health Research, in Adelaide’s new South Australian Health & Medical Research Institute facility (SAHMRI) on North Terrace.

Public Health

Led by the Professor: Public Health, Professor Robyn McDermott and her team are interested in the epidemiology of chronic disease and health transition, and how primary health care can improve outcomes in resource-poor settings. More recently the focus has been on the effective translation of research evidence into clinical and public health practice, with attention to systems issues including funding models, policy environment, information systems, workforce development and primary health care quality improvement for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Population Health and Nutrition

Led by the Professor: Population Health and Nutrition, Professor Kerin O’Dea and her team are interested in the therapeutic potential of the hunter-gatherer lifestyle of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and also of other traditional diets such as the Cretan Mediterranean.

With multiple major funded projects underway, the researchers have high-level expertise across a range of areas including epidemiology, biostatistics, nutrition, clinical interventions, population health interventions, and large-scale data linkage.

Collaborators     Current Research     News


Centre for Population Health Research in the School of Health Sciences

We work closely with and encourage collaboration between other research groups withinthe University of South Australia, including key projects in partnership with Health Economics and Social Policy and Cancer Epidemiology

Other collaborating organisations include:

Local South Australia

Aboriginal Health Council of SA
Ceduna Koonibba Aboriginal Health Service
Country Health SA
Discipline of Public Health, University of Adelaide
SA Department of Health
South Australian Health & Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI)
The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO)
Royal Flying Doctors Service (RFDS)
Women's & Children's Health Research Institute (WCHRI)


Apunipima Cape York Health Council
Charles Darwin University
James Cook University
Menzies Institute School of Health Research
Monash University
Queenslander Aboriginal & Islander Health Council
Queensland Health
Torres Strait and Northern Peninsula Area Health Council
University of Melbourne
University of New England
University of New South Wales
University of Queensland
University of Sydney

Current key research projects

The Centre for Research Excellence in Primary Care: Prevention of Chronic Conditions in Rural and Remote High Risk Populations

Led by the Professor: Public Health, Professor Robyn McDermott, this Centre has received up to $2.5 million funding over four years (2012 – 2016) under an agreement with the Australian Primary Health Care Research Institute located at the Australian National University. The Centre is a consortium of the University of South Australia, James Cook University in Cairns, the Aboriginal Health Council of SA, the Queensland Aboriginal and Islander Health Council and the Royal Flying Doctor Service.

The Centre is evaluating models for primary health care services for Indigenous and other high risk groups in rural and remote areas, with a focus on improving service delivery regarding the prevention and management of chronic diseases such as diabetes, renal and heart conditions, and mental ill-health, as well as the complications arising from these.

National Health and Medical Research Council Program Grant: Improving Chronic Disease for Indigenous Australians

Led by the Professor: Population Health: Nutrition, Professor Kerin  O’Dea, this research program focuses on the causes, appropriate interventions and health system changes that will help reduce the incidence and adverse health impacts of diabetes and cardiovascular disease in Indigenous populations. The research program includes a strong focus on improving diet quality in remote communities (e.g. food supply, healthy take-away,), and improving systems of care for the common lifestyle-related chronic conditions.

Diet in the prevention and treatment of chronic diseases

Led by Dr Natalie Parletta, studies are currently underway examining the therapeutic potential of a traditional Mediterranean diet in the prevention and treatment of depression and other mental health conditions and comorbid risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Collaborative studies are also in progress on the impact of such diets on fatty liver and cardiovascular disease.

More information can be found at the HELFIMED website.

NHMRC Partnership Grant: Getting Better at Chronic Care in North Queensland

Led by the Professor: Public Health, Professor Robyn McDermott,  this project is currently in year 4 of a 5 year trial of  intervention with  intensive chronic care management delivered by Indigenous health workers to Indigenous adults with diabetes in 12 rural communities in north Queensland.  


Left to right: Tom Wycherley, Maria Makrides, Geraint Rogers (behind), Robyn McDermott, Berit Heitmann, Robert Gibson, Charles Mackay, Catherine Itsiopoulos. Absent from the photo: Kerin O’Dea, Alex Brown, Natalie Parletta, Katina D’Onise

UniSA’s recent symposium attracted almost 100 people from all over Adelaide and interstate who took the opportunity to discuss the impact of nutrition on the health of the microbiome.

Hosted by the School of Population Health’s Professor Kerin O’Dea and Professor Robyn McDermott (pictured) the symposium titled ‘Nutrition, chronic disease and the role of inflammation and the microbiome’ was held at the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI) on 28th October 2014. Guest speakers included international, national and local experts in the field of nutrition, obesity, chronic disease, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health, immunology and the microbiome.

The symposium’s opening session on the microbiome featured Professor Charles Mackay, an eminent Australian immunologist from Monash University and the University of Sydney, and Associate Professor Geraint Rogers of SAHMRI, a molecular microbiologist and Director of Microbiome Research at Flinders University. Their presentations generated a number of questions from the audience relating to nutrition and its impact on inflammation and the microbiome, and the effect of dysbiosis (a microbial imbalance in the gut), on the body’s immune function.

As part of the symposium the Sansom Institute for Health Research hosted the presentation by Professor Berit Heitmann, of the University of Southern Denmark. Professor Heitmann’s expertise includes dietary intake and the determinants and consequences of obesity. Her presentation discussed the ‘D-tect study’, a large cohort study in Denmark investigating the impact of a period of compulsory Vitamin D fortification in margarine and milk on a number of chronic diseases including type 1 diabetes and schizophrenia. Associate Professor Catherine Itsiopoulos of La Trobe University and Dr Natalie Parletta of UniSA discussed the benefits of the Mediterranean diet and its mediating effect on chronic disease and depression.

The final session was opened by Professor Alex Brown of UniSA, and Program Leader of Aboriginal Research at SAHMRI. Professor Brown outlined some of the complex relationships between the health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and the psychosocial stress and disadvantage they experience, and the molecular pathways that lead to some of the most prevalent chronic diseases. Professor Robert Gibson of the University of Adelaide discussed inflammation in a number of chronic diseases and the potential anti-inflammatory role of omega-3 fatty acids. Professor Maria Makrides, also of the University of Adelaide discussed the increasing incidence of allergies and how these might be reduced by n-3 long chain polyunsaturated fatty acid (N-3 LCPUFA) supplementation during pregnancy.

Host Professor Robyn McDermott concluded the symposium by bringing a number of symposium themes together. “There seems to be more confusion than ever about what to eat. This symposium brought together some tantalizing prospects for research which can potentially have a direct impact on our current diabesity crisis. A better understanding of the microbiome ecology in humans and the impact of different foods on human health will involve greater collaborative efforts from different disciplines including immunology, microbial ecology, biochemistry, clinical epidemiology, public health and economics,” Professor McDermott said.

View speaker biographies and download selected presentations.

Research Students

Yvette Roe, PhD candidate - Project Title: Continuum of care for patients admitted to hospital for Acute Coronary Syndromes (ACS) in Australia: An exploratory study. Yvette’s thesis is currently under examination.

Catherine Cho, Honours student - Project Title: The association between Mediterranean style diet adherence and cardio-metabolic, mental health and quality of life in participants with depression. Catherine completed her Honours degree in December 2014.

Contact us

Public Health Group

Population Health and Nutrition Group

Both groups are supported by:

Khloe Xu – Research Officer
p: +61 8 8302 2405

Madeleine Mallee - Coordinator 
p: +61 8 8302 1056

Postal address:
Public Health Research Group
Centre for Population Health Research
School of Health Sciences
University of South Australia
GPO Box 2471 - CWE 48
Adelaide SA 5001

Areas of study and research

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