We are pleased to introduce Maria Luger to the EASO community. As the NIU representative of the Healthy Hydration Working Group (HHWG), we are impressed with her contribution.
Maria, please tell us about yourself and your work.
I grew up in a small village in Upper Austria, where I lived until my early twenties. I had a sheltered and very happy childhood with my parents, brothers and sisters. After high school, I wanted to see more of the world and went abroad to London as an Au-pair. In 2006, I moved back to Austria to study Nutritional Science at the University of Vienna. As a result of my internship at the General Hospital of Vienna, I met Professor Karin Schindler and Professor Bernhard Ludvik who enrolled me in his research group and later became my PhD supervisor. After completing my Bachelor of Science in 2009, I became a research assistant at the Competence Centre for Nutrition & Prevention of the Austrian Agency for Health and Food Safety.
In 2013, I graduated with a Masters of Science and started my PhD in Endocrinology and Metabolism at the Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism, the Department of Internal Medicine III at the Medical University of Vienna. I started working in the field of obesity when I joined the research group of Professor Bernhard Ludvik. I worked on my PhD thesis concerning vitamin D, liver fibrosis, and bone metabolism in bariatric patients. Furthermore, I was involved in a research project on developing an Austrian practice model of medical and nutritional care following bariatric surgery at the Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism, which is a member organization in the EASO COM Network. At that time, I also began working for the Special Institute for Preventive Cardiology And Nutrition (SIPCAN) where I still work, with Professors Friedrich Hoppichler and Monika Lechleitner in health promotion interventions in schools and workplaces.
In June 2015, I attended the EASO New Investigators United (NIU) Summer School in Lisbon, and in October I had the opportunity to join the EASO Healthy Hydration Working Group (HHWG) as a new investigator in order to undertake a systematic review of studies from 2013 to 2015 on sugar-sweetened beverages and weight gain in children and adults.
In the course of the literature search, my colleagues and I identified a total of 1,612 citations, of which 48 were selected for full-text review. By screening titles and abstracts, 30 publications met the inclusion criteria. Of these, 17 were prospective cohort studies and 3 randomized controlled trials in children, and 9 were prospective cohort studies and one was a randomized controlled trial in adults. By reviewing the recent evidence we suggest that SSB consumption is positively associated with and has an impact on body weight measured in children and adults. Moreover, by combining previously published evidence with this new research, we can conclude that public health strategies should discourage the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages and promote water as the healthy choice. As this systematic review further supports the evidence, I had the opportunity to present our findings at ECO 2016 in Gothenburg and at the EASO Train the Trainers Summer School in Divonne-Les-Bains sharing examples from SIPCAN showing how to set up successful school based interventions. I am grateful to be part of this excellent working group whose main objectives are to promote water as the healthy beverage choice, to assess evidence-based policy recommendations on hydration, and to implement strategies on prevention and health promotion.
During my PhD research, I cooperated with Professor Anita Rieder of the Department of Social and Preventive Medicine, the Centre for Public Health at the Medical University of Vienna where my twin sister Dr. Eva Luger works. She is also a nutritional scientist. Last year, I completed my PhD and joined the Department of Social and Preventive Medicine, I changed the focus of my obesity research from bariatric surgery to health promotion and obesity prevention. I really enjoy working with the entire SIPCAN team and the Department of Social and Preventive Medicine, especially with my sister who is an excellent colleague.
I have lived in Vienna the capital city of Austria, for 10 years now, with its beauty and well known arts and cultural scene. I live together with my wonderful partner who understands the responsibilities my work entails and is very supportive. When I’m not working, I enjoy spending time with my family and friends. I also enjoy reading, walking, running and climbing in nature which is also a very effective method for keeping up my vitamin D level!