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Cristina is a Marie Curie postdoctoral fellow at Stanford University, Palo Alto VA Health Care System (United States) and the University of Granada (Spain). Her research is mainly focused on the effect of exercise programmes on the brain and physical health in children with obesity; and the effect of exercise on different fat depots (intermuscular, pancreatic, visceral, subcutaneous, and hepatic fat) in children with obesity. She is now co-leading the PREFIT-UP project which aims to explore the predictive role of physical fitness during preschool ages on cardiometabolic health in adolescence.
Cristina earned her Bachelor’s, Master’s and Doctorate’s degrees from the University of Granada. She has published more than 100 scientific articles (indexed in Journal Citation report), some in high-impact journals (JAMA Network Open, Diabetes Care, Journal of Hepatology, etc.), of which four are highly cited papers. She is recognised as a worldwide expert (in the top 15) on physical fitness and cardiorespiratory fitness by ExpertScape. She was also selected as one of the most recognised female researchers by the Spanish National Research Council.
Here we find out more about Cristina and her life and career.
Q: Congratulations on your award Cristina – for those who don’t know you, please share a bit about your background?
A: I grew up in Marbella, a city from Malaga in the south of Spain. My parents did not have the opportunity to study at university and so have always supported me and my sister in following our academic pursuits. I was always fascinated by how things worked, my academic ability did not take off until university, where I found my inspiration and the curiosity led me to pursue a career in science. Since I was 5 years old, I was always linked to different sports (i.e., gymnastics, running, swimming, tennis, soccer, etc.), and in most of them I was playing with my sister María, and my cousin Marta, who I treat as my second sister!
Q: What inspired you to pursue a career in research, particularly focusing on obesity and its related issues?
A: One of my main motivations is the desire to help others and improve their quality of life. Obesity is a major health issue that affects millions of people around the world and can lead to a variety of health problems. By researching prevention and treatment strategies, we can work to mitigate the negative impact of obesity and related conditions on children and society as a whole. In addition, I have always been curious about understanding the health outcomes associated with obesity, particularly how exercise could be an important tool for preventing and treating obesity.
Q: How have your research interests evolved over time, and what factors have led you to focus on obesity as your primary research area?
A: In my short career, my research interests have been evolving along different research lines but always keeping as a core topic, obesity, and childhood. I started my PhD with a multicentric project named PREFIT, where we aimed to evaluate physical fitness and anthropometry in preschool children from 3 to 5 years. One of the studies that we published found that even at these early ages, preschool children present with morbid obesity. While working on my thesis, I was a project manager for the ActiveBrains project (PI. Francisco B. Ortega, at the University of Granada), and moved to working on exercise and brain health in children with overweight/obesity. This was a starting point to understanding the need for more research in this population, and for improving their physical and mental health.
Lastly, while having the opportunity to do my postdoc at the Public University of Navarre with Dr. Idoia Labayen, I learnt about the effect of the addition of exercise along with a psychoeducational programme on hepatic fat in children with overweight/obesity (EFIGRO project). We also examined how the intervention improved other fat depots such as pancreatic, visceral, subcutaneous, intermuscular. I would say that these experiences made me decide to focus on childhood obesity as my primary research area.
Q: What are some key challenges and opportunities you have encountered as an early career researcher in the field of obesity?
A: One of the main challenges is to provide new insights that can advance the field of obesity. There is a vast amount of information that we need to address, and there is still much to be discovered. Nevertheless, I see this challenge as an opportunity to push the boundaries of our understanding of obesity and develop new strategies for prevention and treatment.
Q: Can you share any insights on how your research on obesity has the potential to contribute to public health, policy-making, or clinical practice?
A My research on obesity has the potential to inform public health policies and interventions, improve clinical interventions for treating obesity, and contribute to the development of new technologies and tools for monitoring and treating obesity. By identifying effective strategies for promoting physical activity and healthy eating habits, I hope to help prevent obesity and improve the health of populations.