Dr Jaithri Ananthapavan’s contributions to public health research have been recognised by the Victorian Government who have awarded her the 2022 Premier’s Award for Health and Medical Research in Public Health.

The awards were established in 1995 by the Victorian Government in partnership with the Australian Society for Medical Research to recognise exceptional contributions of Victoria’s mid and early-career health and medical researchers.

Image credit: Victorian Department of Health

Dr Ananthapavan is an Alfred Deakin Postdoctoral Research Fellow and leads the economics of obesity research stream across the Institute for Health Transformation (IHT)’s Deakin Health Economics (DHE) and Global Centre for Preventive Health and Nutrition (GLOBE) research domains. Dr Ananthapavan’s work aims to establish the value for money of policies and programs that can reduce the burden of obesity.

Overweight and obesity is the second leading risk factor for health burden in Australia and in addition to the impacts on our health, it also poses an immense economic burden on our society, Dr Ananthapavan says.

‘The annual societal cost of overweight and obesity is estimated to be A$12 billion,’ she says.

‘The key drivers of obesity involve sectors and settings that are not under the jurisdiction of the health department, such as education, transport and urban design. To address the problem effectively, we need to create an integrated and co-ordinated government response across departments.’

Through her PhD research, Dr Ananthapavan developed a cost-benefit analysis framework to aid cross-sectoral decision-making regarding the value for money for obesity prevention initiatives. She then used the framework to assess the cost-effectiveness of a policy to improve the healthiness of supermarkets.

‘I found that many policies that aim to improve the healthiness of our food environment are highly cost-effective,’ she says.

‘These policies not only improve the health of the population, but also save money from reduced healthcare costs into the future.’

Dr Ananthapavan’s shortlisting for the award is fitting recognition of her unique skillset and expertise, says Director of IHT, Alfred Deakin Professor Anna Peeters.

‘Jaithri is an internationally and nationally recognised emerging leader in the health economics of preventive health and obesity,’ she says.

‘She’s a rising star within the Institute for Health Transformation. Working at an expert level within a developing field, Jaithri has clear potential to become a significant international research leader in the coming years.’

This is the second consecutive year that the Premier’s Award for Health and Medical Research in Public Health has been awarded to an IHT researcher. In 2022, the award was presented to IHT’s Christina Zorbas in recognition of her work to address the affordability of healthy diets for people on low incomes.

‘A key priority of the Institute is to support emerging research leaders in addressing the complex challenges facing our health systems today,’ Professor Peeters says.

‘The Premier’s Awards received by Jaithri and Christina are fitting recognition of the calibre of their research and the Institute’s role in building the capacity of the next generation of health and medical research leaders.’