CHErIsH at the Oireachtas

Dr Karen Matvienko-Sikar and Professor Patricia Kearney, on behalf of the CHErIsH study team, recently submitted to the Oireachtas the Joint Committee on Children and Youth Affairs, Tackling Childhood Obesity. The written submission outlined key and recommendations of the CHErIsH study to date and can be read here.


As a result of this submission, Dr Karen Matvienko-Sikar was invited to speak as part of the Committees ‘Tackling Childhood Obesity’ parliamentary discussions. The meeting was held in Leinster House on May 30th 2018 and was chaired by Alan Farrell (TD). The meeting was also attended by representatives of the Association of Teachers of Home Economics; the home economics department of St. Angela’s College in Sligo, and a second session included representatives of the No Fry Zone 4 Kids committee; the Irish Nutrition and Dietetic Institute; and the school of education, childhood youth and sport, faculty of well-being, education and language studies of the Open University. A video of the Committee Meeting can be viewed here and the transcript of the meeting can be read here.


CHErIsH researcher wins award for obesity research

AMM-180125-7136CHErIsH post-doctoral researcher, Dr Elaine Toomey was recently awarded the ‘Irish Canadian University Foundation James M Flaherty Early Career Researcher Award’. Dr Toomey received the award to conduct further research on the adaptation of ‘Football Fans in Training’ (FFIT), an effective health behaviour change intervention developed by Prof Kate Hunt, Prof Sally Wyke and Dr Cindy Gray that used Scottish professional football clubs to engage with overweight and obese men. The ‘Hockey Fit’ intervention was recently developed by Dr Rob Petrella and Dr Dawn Gill in Western University, Ontario to adapt the FFIT project to ice-hockey, within a Canadian context.

Elaine’s award will enable her to visit Western University and explore the Canadian ‘Hockey Fit’ intervention with a specific focus on how FFIT components were adapted to suit a different sporting and cultural context, and inform how this might be used in an Irish context. Dr Toomey will also spend time in the Centre for Implementation Research in the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute to maximise how knowledge from her visit to Western University can be used to inform adaptation and translation into an Irish setting, using a structured and theory-based approach.

Elaine was interviewed on Thursday 15th February about this award and also about the work of the CHErIsH study on the ‘Limerick Today’ programme on Limerick’s Live 95fm. Radio host Joe Nash, was particularly interested in the work of the CHErIsH study into how infant feeding behaviours could be changed to prevent childhood obesity. Listen back to the interview podcast here!


CHErIsH at the European Childhood Obesity Group Annual Congress (ECOG)

Last November, CHErIsH post doc Michelle Queally recently presented CHErIsH research at the 2017 European Childhood Obesity Group Conference (ECOG) in the stunning city of Rome.  ECOG is a well-established group set up in 1991, describing its’ mission as helping the European community to “understand fully the health, social, psychological and economic impacts of childhood obesity, and work together to take this growing problem off the menu in Europe”. Michelle presented the results of the CHErIsH’s  team  research which examined parental perceptions of their child’s weight in Ireland. Michelle spoke about how the findings indicated that mothers are unable to accurately identify their child’s overweight or obesity status at age 3 and age 5.

Although all of the presentations focused on issues in childhood obesity research, the range of topics was quite broad, covering prevention of childhood obesity, clinical aspects and origins, health behaviours and costs of childhood obesity.  Apart from getting the opportunity to enjoy an audience with the Pope along with casually walking past the Trevi Fountain every morning on route to the conference (!), my top three personal highlights from the conference were the presentations delivered by Francesco Branca, Amandine Garde and together Sarah Redsell and Jenny Rose. So, very briefly why were these my top 3 favs?!



Firstly, it was reassuring and encouraging to be reminded that our CHErIsH team research agenda on infant feeding practises in Ireland is very much the agenda at a global level – as reiterated by the none other than the Director of the Department of Nutrition for Health and Development in the World Health Organisation (WHO), Geneva; Francesco Branca. Namely, the mixed messages around infant feeding guidelines where Branca referred to these being “a global jungle” and very confusing with “no authoritative source”. He noted that the whole issue of key messages around infant feeding practise is a critical one; what the key messages are and how we need to work on developing these as a scientific community. He also alluded to the self-experts on the web that are churning out misguided non-evidence based advice on infant feeding. Interestingly, he went on to suggest how we, the scientific community ought to try working better with the social media who are possibly best able to convene these messages. So, ladies and gentlemen that participated in our CHErIsH focus groups in Cork and Galway, it’s fair (and sad) to say that the sentiments and challenges that you spoke about regarding mixed infant feeding guidelines and sources are a global “phenomenon”. It is certainly encouraging that the WHO have highlighted this research area as critical. The picture on the below left shows UNICEF recommended practises for infant feeding.

An interesting message from Amandine Garde was that we ought to frame childhood obesity prevention as a child’s right- rather than as being a public health initiative. This opened up a huge debate in the audience. Her take home message was that parents are guardians of children’s health but that there is too much intervention – it should be the parent’s role to prevent the child from becoming obese/overweight. But, she also noted that parents need to be supported by the state and that the state has the responsibility to ensure that children’s environment is not obesogenic.

Sarah Redsell and Jenny Rose (pictured below) presented their project which assessed the feasibility and acceptability of using digital technology for assessing the risk of obesity during infancy. We know that interactive digital technology can support complex and sensitive discussions between health professionals and patients. This is such an important area of research as we also are aware of the sensitive nature of communicating that a child is overweight or obese. In very simple terms, their study used a tablet to input the child’s data (baby birth weight and length, current weight etc.) into a validated risk prediction tool (called ProAsk) which then calculated the infant’s risk of obesity. Interestingly they found this tool was acceptable to most parents, but intervention fidelity was low. Intervention fidelity refers to the degree to which the intervention is delivered as intended. So maybe more research needed here but definitely a promising area of research.


Overall, the ECOG meeting was enjoyable and intellectually stimulating.  If I had to find one minor “fault” with the conference…it would be the food served up! A colleague of ours who also is involved in the CHErIsH  project– Marita Hennessy springs to mind here…who is an advocate for healthy eating in the workplace, particularly at these type of meetings. Although it may have been a case of when in Rome…literally…! But the teatime snacks provided included biscuits, crisps and peanuts and sugary pastries (no healthy options), with pasta and lots of non- healthy food for lunch…hmm… This was in fact a discussion point in the networking sessions! As a self-confessed sugar addict, it suited me fine but I couldn’t help but think maybe it’s time we practised what we preach…particularly at a European conference of childhood obesity. Overall though, a fantastic insight to all the multifaceted layers that exist regarding childhood obesity.

We need you! Get involved with CHErIsH!

Work has recently gotten underway on the next stage of our project, to get you, parents, mothers and fathers, aunts, uncles and grandparents of children involved with us in our research! We want to create an energetic partnership between you and Team CHErIsH so that the infant feeding insights, views and experiences of parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles will guide the development of our research, influence the planning and delivery of infant feeding support services in ways that are accessible and meaningful to the public.

This is called PPI, or public and patient involvement, and tries to make sure our research is relevant and beneficial to patient and public needs. As such it is a really important part of our project. We have recently created a dedicated page to our PPI – If you, or anyone you know, would like to help out (even in a small way) please get in touch using our contact page!


This part of our project is being led by CHErIsH researcher Dr. Michelle Queally.

For more information on how to get involved please click the link to our PPI page:

CHErIsH at European Health Psychology Society conference 2017

CHErIsH post doc Karen Matvienko-Sikar recently presented CHErIsH research at the 2017 European Health Psychology Society Conference in Italy. The conference took place from August 29th to September 2nd in the beautiful city of Padova. Karen presented the overall CHErIsH project in the first poster session on Tuesday 29th, to much interest and discussion.

posterKaren Matvienko-Sikar (left) & Elaine Toomey (right)

On Saturday September 2nd, Karen presented the results of her qualitative evidence synthesis on parental experiences and perceptions of infant complementary feeding.


This work was presented as part of a symposium titled: Maximising the value of qualitative methods in the development and evaluation of behavior change interventions. The symposium was chaired by fellow CHErIsH post doc Elaine Toomey and CHErIsH collaborator Dr Jenny McSharry. Dr McSharry, Dr Molly Byrne, and Marita Hennessy, who are all involved in the CHErIsH project also presented and facilitated activities on the day.

symposiumL-R: Dr Annegret Schneider, Prof Val Morrison, Dr Karen Matvienko-Sikar, Dr Molly Byrne, Dr Jenny McSharry, Marita Hennessy

CHErIsH get planning!

CHErIsH team members recently took part in a two-day event organised by CHErIsH postdoctoral fellow Dr. Elaine Toomey to develop the CHErIsH process evaluation. Dr. Toomey secured funding from the Berkeley Initiative for Transparency in the Social Sciences (BITSS) to host a one-day training workshop in process evaluations in the National University of Ireland Galway. BITSS aims to enhance the practices of economists, psychologists, political scientists, and other social scientists in ways that promote research transparency, reproducibility, and openness.

PE course
Signage in the workshop venue

The first day of the workshop was facilitated by Dr Rhiannon Evans and Dr Graham Moore from the Centre for Development and Evaluation of Complex Interventions for Public Health Improvement (DECIPHer) and was open to researchers, practitioners, policy-makers and students from a broad variety of backgrounds. Specifically, this workshop aimed to facilitate world-class training in Ireland on how to conduct a process evaluation of a complex intervention. Process evaluations focus on understanding how and why an intervention (e.g. treatment or programme or specific approach) succeeds or fails and assesses any variation in terms of how it is put into practice. It is crucial for enhancing the development, conduct and reporting of intervention evaluations in psychology, public health and social science settings. For read more on the content of the day one workshop, click here to read Dr Toomey’s BITSS blog.

The second day was a closed session (funded by the Health Research Board CHErIsH project budget) specifically for the CHErIsH study team to focus on planning the process evaluation for the CHErIsH project. Nine members of the study team were present (with one virtually present via Skype!) for the half-day session facilitated by Dr Evans. First, Dr Evans provided a brief summary and refresher of the previous day’s content. This summary focused on the role of process evaluations in developing and evaluating complex interventions as well as the role of intervention theory and development of a logic model (visual depiction of the intervention and its hypotheses). Finally, Dr. Evans concluded by discussing how to recognize key process evaluation components and identify their strengths and limitations.

PE course Day 2 Cherish
CHErIsH team members with Dr Rhiannon Evans from DECIPHer
L-R: Dr Jenny McSharry, Prof Molly Byrne, Dr Michelle Queally, Dr Elaine Toomey, Dr Rhiannon Evans, Dr Sheena McHugh, Ms Marita Hennessy, Dr Colette Kelly, Dr Caroline Heary

After coffee, CHErIsH postdoctoral fellow Dr Michelle Queally provided an overview on the CHErIsH project and an update of progress to date. This presentation nicely facilitated the next stage of practical group-work which aimed to look at applying the process evaluation literature and knowledge specifically to the CHErIsH project. In two separate groups, the study team discussed potential areas for consideration  for the project, in terms of determinants (or influences) of behaviour and how this could be changed for both healthcare providers working in primary care, as well as for parents of young infants. The team also discussed ‘dark logic’ models or potential, unintended, adverse effects of an approach to improve infant feeding in primary care – such as having reduced time for other important aspects of infant health.

Overall, it was felt that this was a hugely useful event which consolidated general knowledge regarding process evaluations with a specific emphasis on its application for the CHErIsH project. Thoughts, outcomes and final considerations from this day will be further discussed at the upcoming CHErIsH team meeting!

The workshop reading list, full agenda details and workshop evaluations are available on The one-day workshop was funded by the Berkeley Initiative for Transparency in the Social Sciences (BITSS) and the John Templeton Foundation. For more information, please visit, sign up for the BITSS blog, and follow BITSS on Twitter @UCBITSS. The second day closed event was funded by the CHErIsH project budget HRB-ICE-2015-1026.