EASO Early Career Award in Public Health 2022

EASO Early Career Award in Public Health 2022

Elif Inan-Eroglu“We found that excess adiposity may exacerbate the harmful impact of alcohol on cancer risk. The key point of my study is that individuals with obesity should consume alcohol cautiously.”

Elif Inan-Eroglu is a postdoctoral researcher and an accredited practising dietitian at the Molecular Epidemiology Department of the German Institute of Human Nutrition. Elif received her PhD in nutrition and dietetics from Hacettepe University in Turkey and worked as a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Sydney, Australia where she developed an interest in nutritional epidemiology and public health. Elif’s work covers a broad portfolio of nutrition research with the aim of better understanding how nutrition could affect long-term health outcomes. Her expertise includes nutritional epidemiology, obesity, clinical trials and alcohol consumption.

Lovely to meet you, Elif, please tell us a bit about yourself.

I was born in Samsun, the biggest city in the Black Sea Region of Turkey and have lived there until I started my university degree at Hacettepe University in Ankara, which is the leading university in Turkey in the field of health sciences. While studying for a nutrition and dietetics bachelor’s degree, I was aware of misinformation in some of the conventional wisdom about nutrition and healthy eating, which led me to develop an interest in exploring the latest scientific research in nutrition, in order to inform the public with evidence-based information; I wanted to focus my dietetic practice  on the latest scientific facts. I was awarded the Jean Monnet Scholarship of the European Union, and conducted my master’s degree studies in Food Safety and Quality Management Systems at the University of Greenwich, the UK. For my PhD in nutrition and dietetics, I returned to Hacettepe University, where I worked as a research assistant, tutor and lecturer. Upon completing my PhD, I started working as a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Sydney, Australia, where I further built on my nutrition and dietetics skills. I also transferred my dietetics degree to Australia and became an Accredited Practising Dietitian in Australia. Since January 2022, I have been working at the Molecular Epidemiology Department of the German Institute of Human Nutrition under the supervision of Prof Matthias Schulze as a postdoctoral researcher.

The EASO community would love to learn more about your country and the area you live in.

Currently, I live in Berlin, Germany. Although my workplace, the German Institute of Human Nutrition, is located in Potsdam-Rehbrucke, commuting from Berlin to Potsdam is easy and fast – thanks to Germany’s incredible public transport system. Both Potsdam and Berlin have excellent research institutes, where each researcher is fully supported throughout their academic career. There are also many start-ups and industrial research job opportunities if a person would like to pursue a career outside of academia. Berlin has a lot to offer to everyone. I never visited Berlin before moving here, but I already feel like a local since Berlin accepts everyone as they are. It is almost impossible to get bored in Berlin with all the museums, art shows, theatres, concerts, etc. And not to mention that you can find these activities not only in German but also in other languages. Berlin welcomes everyone with its internationality. Berlin is open to your interpretation and will, in turn, allow you to express yourself however you feel.

Thanks Elif, looking forward to visiting Berlin again now that we are all beginning to travel once more. How did you develop an interest in the field of obesity? 

The obesity pandemic has been one of the most dangerous public health problems for decades. Unfortunately, there is plenty of misinformation and inappropriate treatment practices for obesity. On an individual level, there are many tools we can use to prevent obesity; however, to do so on a population level, we need more than this. Because of the complex aetiology of obesity, effective treatment and management of obesity must be based on a multidisciplinary approach and team, including but not limited to medical doctors, dietitians, psychologists, nurses and exercise therapists. As a dietitian and public health researcher, I have always felt the duty and responsibility of helping people living with overweight or obesity or preventing people from developing obesity by providing the highest quality of treatment techniques proven by scientific research. Confusion about food and diet is widespread, but as dietitians, we are in a critical position to promote a healthy lifestyle with our education in nutrition, health, counselling and behavioural strategies as well as active involvement in public health, health promotion, clinical treatment and research.

Thank you! Please share how you became interested in your current research area. What are your other research interests?

To be honest, this happened by luck! But I can say that I found my true passion in public health and nutritional epidemiology. When I first started my postdoctoral research at the University of Sydney, I was involved in a clinical work conducted by Prof Amanda Salis, in the Type of Energy Manipulation for Promoting optimum metabolic health and body composition in Obesity (TEMPO) Diet randomized controlled trial  (RCT) in which we aimed to demonstrate whether or not there are any differences between a very low energy diet and conventional diet with respect to effects on body composition. When the trial concluded I started working in Prof Emmanuel Stamatakis’ research group and conducting research related to lifestyle factors such as diet, physical activity and sleep, obesity, and other chronic diseases across different large datasets, including the UK Biobank and 1970 British Cohort Study. Seeing how epidemiologic research can be effective in public health guidelines and policies got me even more excited, and I decided to pursue a career in this field. The more I learn about epidemiology, the more passionate I become about public health. I am currently at the German Institute of Human Nutrition, the best place to conduct my research on obesity, diet, and chronic diseases in other well-established data sets such as the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer (EPIC).

Help us learn more about your award-winning research. 

My award-winning research is from the UK Biobank and about the joint association of alcohol consumption and adiposity with alcohol and obesity-related cancer. Very few studies have investigated the joint association between alcohol consumption and adiposity with cancer risk, and most of these studies focused on a single cancer site, on a particular type of cancer survivors or were retrospective case-control studies. Additionally, the majority of the studies focused on body mass index. My study is the first one to investigate the joint association of alcohol consumption and multi-indicator adiposity with exposure-specific cancer incidence outcomes. We were able to provide detailed exposure-specific outcomes (alcohol- and obesity-related cancers as well as their combinations) and adjust for extensive covariates. We included 13 cancer sites for obesity-related cancers and grouped alcohol-related cancers according to narrow (8 cancer sites) and broad definitions (10 cancer sites). Adiposity was defined using three measures: body fat percentage, waist circumference, and body mass index. The analysis allowed us to determine synergistic effects between alcohol consumption and different markers of adiposity. We found that excess adiposity may exacerbate the harmful impact of alcohol on cancer risk. The key take-away message from my study is that individuals with obesity should consume alcohol cautiously. My study also provides guidance for public health priorities to lower the population’s cancer risk via two modifiable key risk factors.

Excellent – fascinating research, Elif! What are your future career plans?

Firstly, in the short term, I would like to expand my knowledge, perception and understanding of the health problems that are associated with obesity, as well as to educate the public and create a more significant awareness related to obesity through various channels. In the long term, I would love to stay in academia, in public health research and become an expert in nutritional epidemiology research. I would like to collaborate with different research groups to expand my perspective and network. I aim to carry out research that helps shape future public health guidelines and policies, and I also would like to work actively in the development of future guidelines. I look forward to becoming a well-known name in this field in future and helping people living with obesity by using my nutritional knowledge and research skills in every way that I can do.

That’s great, I suspect we will be hearing a lot about your work in the future! Aside from your professional interests, what are your hobbies and interests?

I can say that I am an old-school person when it comes to hobbies. I love crafts such as cross-stitching and punch needles and enjoy giving these as handmade presents. Along with this, I also like cooking and find it therapeutic. I enjoy participating in volunteer activities especially teaching nutrition. When I was in Australia, I delivered nutrition education to people with intellectual disabilities as a part of the National Disability Insurance Scheme, which gave me the utmost satisfaction in my profession. Living in Australia and experiencing its amazing nature also led me to develop nature-based interests, I started to learn diving after the Great Barrier Reef experience, and I started enjoying travelling with a caravan and going camping. Recently, I have spent time exploring the  grand museums and art galleries of Berlin!