Nutrition Week

Nutrition Week - Scientia PhD student Briar McKenzie is examining differences in dietary intake for women and men

This year’s nutrition week is all about promoting fruit and vegetable consumption but our Scientia PhD student Briar McKenzie is examining differences in dietary intake for women and men, and whether we need gender sensitive policies to improve nutrition.

Globally there is an urgent need to improve diets with around a quarter of all deaths attributable to poor diets in 2017 [1]. What we eat on a day to day basis is a key modifiable risk factor for cardiovascular diseases, the leading causes of death for women and men worldwide [2]. Over the past decade there has been a growing body of evidence identifying differing impacts of cardiovascular disease risk factors, such as systolic blood pressure, diabetes and smoking, on cardiovascular disease outcomes for women and men [3, 4]. At the same time, these studies have highlighted the need to investigate sex and gender interactions with disease outcomes and to present sex disaggregated data. There is currently limited research on sex and gender differences in dietary intake and relationships with health outcomes. This is important in relation to achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals 3 and 5 -good health and wellbeing and gender equality [5].

My PhD will address this evidence gap by investigating sex and gender differences in dietary behaviour and intake in regards to cardiovascular health outcomes.

I was inspired to conduct my PhD on this topic area during a presentation on the George Institute’s Global Women’s Health program by our Principal Director Robyn Norton. While I knew that cardiovascular disease was a leading cause of death for men, at the time I did not realise that it was also a leading cause of death for women, or that the symptoms and risk factors can be different for women. I soon discovered that very few nutrition studies presented data disaggregated by sex or gender, and so it was hard to tell if diets differed between women and men, or if any differences in diet effected health outcomes. I discussed with my supervisor Jacqui Webster who supported me to put together a UNSW Scientia PhD project proposal and I was then successful in obtaining a Scientia PhD scholarship to look into this. I am now in the second year of my PhD working on four main projects:

  • My first project is a systematic review to understand if women and men self-report dietary intake in the same way.
  • The second project is looking at the relationships between dietary behaviours and cardiovascular risk factors across seven low and middle income countries, investigating sex and gender differences.
  • My third project will focus specifically on sex and gender differences in diet related knowledge, attitudes and behaviours through qualitative research in the Pacific Islands.
  • Finally, my fourth project will examine the relationship between achieving dietary recommendations and cardiovascular events using data from a large cohort in the UK.

I believe this research and broader discussion around the importance of investigating sex and gender differences is urgently needed, poor diets are a huge contributor to the global burden of disease and we need to understand sex and gender differences in order to implement effective policies.


  1. Afshin A, Sur PJ, Fay KA, Cornaby L, Ferrara G, Salama JS, Mullany EC, Abate KH, Abbafati C, Abebe Z: Health effects of dietary risks in 195 countries, 1990–2017: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2017. The Lancet 2019, 393(10184):1958-1972.
  2. GBD Compare Data Visualization 
  3. Millett ER, Peters SA, Woodward MJb: Sex differences in risk factors for myocardial infarction: cohort study of UK Biobank participants. 2018, 363:k4247.
  4. Woodward M: Cardiovascular disease and the female disadvantage. International journal of environmental research public health nutrition 2019, 16(7):1165.
  5. The Sustainable Development Goals