Prestigious award for research into sugar and weight gain

Dr Lisa Te Morenga has been awarded an Early Career Research Excellence Award for Science from the Royal Society Te Apārangi.

Lisa Te Morenga posing for a photo in a bookshop with books about sugar in the foreground
Dr Lisa Te Morenga is the 2019 recipient of the Hamilton Award from the Royal Society Te Apārangi.

The award, known as the Hamilton Award, was presented to Dr Lisa Te Morenga (Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Whātua Orākei, Te Uri o Hau, Te Rarawa) for her research into the link between free sugar and the risk of excessive weight gain.

The research was commissioned by the World Health Organization (WHO) to inform new recommendations on sugar intake. It provided irrefutable evidence connecting free sugar in the diet and weight gain and subsequently had significant international influence, with many countries creating new policies to reduce sugar intake following the release of the WHO’s new guidelines in 2015.

The study, ‘Dietary sugars and body weight: systematic review and meta-analyses of randomised controlled trials and cohort studies’, was published in the British Medical Journal in 2013.

Reflecting on the award, Dr Te Morenga says “it’s a wonderful honour to be recognised for my research, especially given there are many really talented early careers researchers in Aotearoa New Zealand.”

I still get a buzz seeing my sugars work cited in other articles, text books, and international nutrition guidelines and policies – and just knowing that my research has had actual impact.”

Dr Te Morenga has continued to contribute to significant research in the field of nutrition, including a second study commissioned by the WHO to inform the development of new guidelines on carbohydrate intake. The landmark research, led by Dr Te Morenga and published in The Lancet in early 2019, showed that dietary fibre, especially from wholegrains, is important for long-term health.

She has also received a Rutherford Discovery Fellowship from the Royal Society Te Apārangi to research the role of carbohydrates, including sugars and wholegrains, in our diet to inform strategies to create healthier food environments.

Dr Te Morenga’s biggest research motivation is to achieve Māori health equity, with a focus on the role of nutrition in the development of preventable diseases that inflict a particularly high health burden on the Māori community. She says that new and innovative strategies for improving health and wellbeing are going to come from mātauranga (wisdom) in our communities.

“I’m just a kaimahi in this process contributing where I can.”

The Hamilton Award, Early Career Research Excellence Award for Science, was presented to Dr Te Morenga at the 2019 Research Honours Aotearoa gala in Dunedin last night.

More information about Dr Te Morenga’s award and the 2019 Research Honours Aotearoa is available on the Royal Society’s website.