Prof Sian Robinson, research lead for nutrition and healthy ageing

Sian_RobinsonProfessor Sian Robinson leads the NIHR Southampton Biomedical Research Centre’s research programme on nutrition in older age, with a personal focus on how variations in nutrition across the lifecourse contribute to inequalities in adult health.

Sian’s current research has three main themes:

  • Assessing the diets of populations
  • Early life influences on body composition
  • Nutrition and ageing

Assessing the diets of populations

Being able to obtain accurate information on the foods and drinks people consume is a cornerstone of understanding how nutrition impacts on health across the population. Sian has a longstanding interest in developing methods to assess diet, particularly the design of new methods that are widely accessible and simple to use.

This work builds on experience and expertise gained through the work of the MRC Lifecourse Epidemiology Unit, which has delivered over 50,000 dietary assessments within its large cohort studies, including the Southampton Women’s Survey and the Hertfordshire Cohort Study.

Early life influences on body composition

As early life is recognised as a ‘critical period’, when the risk of development and persistence of overweight and obesity may be increased, understanding the role of early nutrition may be key to developing obesity prevention strategies.

Despite the impact of an increasingly ‘obesogenic’ environment, and growing numbers of obese children, many children in the population are not overweight.  A main aim of Sian's research is therefore to understand better how individuals interact with their environment in early life, and how much this may predispose some children to gain excess weight.  Using children’s data from the Southampton Women’s Survey, the role of differences in diet in infancy and and the pre-school years, as well as maternal diet in pregnancy, are being explored as influences on body composition in later childhood.

Nutrition and ageing

Enabling older adults to maintain their quality of life and remain independent is significant challenge for any ageing population, such as the UK's.

Sian's research in this area focuses on maintaining physical capability, a critical component of healthy ageing. Although declining physical capability in later life is expected, in parallel with age-related losses of muscle mass and strength, the rate of decline is not spread evenly across the population.

She is looking at the contributions of diet and lifestyle to declining physical capability, with the aim of developing sustainable interventions to slow losses of muscle mass and strength in older age.

Education and career

Sian became research area lead for nutrition in older age for the NIHR BRC in 2015. She gained a BSc and PhD in Nutrition from Queen Elizabeth College, University of London, and is a registered nutritionist.  She joined Southampton's MRC Lifecourse Epidemiology Unit, following postdoctoral positions in Southampton and Switzerland, where she has been responsible for the nutritional components of their large UK cohort studies.  She is Professor of Nutritional Epidemiology within Medicine at the University of Southampton.