I am a Belgian citizen, currently living in the beautiful New Zealand.
For me, without any doubt, it was really my master thesis that triggered my interest into nutrition, and public health more broadly. While most of my colleagues at the time were doing experiments in the lab, I got the opportunity to do research for some months in rural West Africa, looking at the impact of a locally produced, energy-dense supplement on dietary habits of pregnant women and validating a physical activity questionnaire using accelerometers. It was a great experience organizing research in such a context and working with the local people. I still remember being offered dolo, the traditional sorghum beer, every morning during my data collection in one of the villages.
After ending my studies, mainly thanks to my master thesis, I got offered a position as nutrition researcher at the Scientific Institute for Public Health in Brussels, which was only for a few months, but I ended up staying for five years. I learnt a lot in this period and got offered a lot of responsibilities, for which I am really grateful. I have led several national nutrition surveys in Belgium, and have been a member of the expert committee and the working groups on micronutrients and salt/energy reduction of the first National Nutrition and Health Plan. I assisted in the development of a European food classification system for exposure assessment and the conduction of pilot studies for a European food consumption survey. While working at the Institute of Public Health, I pursued a PhD degree at the Free University of Brussels. My PhD contributed to the recognition of iodine deficiency as a public health problem in Belgium. I drafted and implemented a strategy for tackling iodine deficiency and contributed important nationally representative data on iodine status of children, women of child-bearing age and pregnant women, assessed the impact of the strategy, and provided recommendations to refine iodine nutrition policy. During my time at the institute, I worked on quite a different range of topics in the field of nutrition.
I recently took scientific leave from the institute to focus more on obesity and NCD prevention and the potential solutions to tackle this growing public health issue. I am currently part of the leadership team that is implementing a new monitoring framework to assess food environments and policies (INFORMAS) globally. The idea is that measuring and benchmarking government policies, food industry practices and the healthiness of food environments will increase accountability and ultimately actions of governments and the food industry. So I hope we will be successful to get INFORMAS up and running globally to effectively reduce obesity and diet-related NCDs. I also hope this effort could improve the effectiveness of advocacy efforts of global and national NGOs and civil society more broadly.