Research Fellow | Lecturer | Registered Nutritionist | Founder & Co - Director
I am Dr. Hibbah Araba Osei Kwasi, An AXA Research Fellow at the University of Sheffield. I have a PhD in Public Health Nutrition from the University of Sheffield, UK, a Masters in Nutrition and Rural Development from Ghent University, Belgium and a Bachelor of Science in Community Nutrition from the University for Development Studies, Ghana. My research cuts across nutrition, psychology and public health. Over the last few years, I have focused on dietary practices and its relationship with chronic diseases. I also teach Nutrition and Public Health related courses at the undergraduate and postgraduate level at the University of Sheffield and University of Chester (as a visiting lecturer). Outside of my research and teaching career, I am the founder and co-director of Sahara Nutrition. Sahara Nutrition is a network of nutrition professionals comprising registered nutritionists, dietitians and public health experts working together at the community level to provide evidence-based and sustainable nutrition support to African and Caribbean communities in the UK and beyond to promote health and prevent diet-related chronic diseases. The research evidence shows that people of African and Caribbean origin are more vulnerable to conditions such as obesity and hypertension. Through my PhD research, I realized that many of the barriers to healthy lifestyle for African migrants in particular are socio-cultural. So, I have decided to use insight from my work to find a balance between culture and health. For instance, how do we adapt our traditional foods and cooking behaviours such that it reduces our risk of diseases? That is what led to the establishment of Sahara Nutrition. We work in partnership with different Black groups like the Caribbean and African Health Network (CAHN), faith-based organizations and various media platforms.
With regards to how my journey started, I would say I got into nutrition by chance when I couldn’t get to study medicine. The plan afterwards was to complete my degree and then go back to the university to study medicine. But I had the opportunity to work at the Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research and then I fell in love with research. At Noguchi, I worked as a Research Assistant for 4 years, before I started applying to study for a masters. I applied to so many institutions in the USA and the UK but could not get funding. Then finally, I found out about universities in Europe where you did not have to pay tuition. I applied, had admission and left for Belgium to pursue a Masters. When I was going to Belgium, I didn’t get a scholarship but I didn’t let it stop me, I found a way to mobilize resources including selling my car to enable me to travel. Even though one did not have to pay tuition one needed money for living expenses. After the first semester in Belgium, I was awarded a monthly stipend based on my first semester exam. I graduated from Ghent with a Great Distinction and I was the overall best student of my cohort in 2012.
I had an opportunity later to do a PhD at the University of Sheffield. My PhD scholarship covered tuition fees, and part of my living expenses. I started with the intention to work to be able to cover the rest of my living expenses. By God’s Grace I had the opportunity to work on a project that supported me for some time. The PhD journey can be hard, but I had a very supportive team who mentored and provided me with opportunities that have exposed me to a network of world leading academics and researchers across the globe. I am forever grateful to my supervisors. I have gained international recognition for research in Nutrition and on ethnic minorities and I am committed to making an impact not just by publishing papers but also engaging with the Africans in the diaspora. In my current postdoc position, I have 5 mentors who are supporting me in my fellowship.
Outside of research, I continue to learn from others who have excelled in nutrition practice as well. I never stop learning.
My journey will be incomplete if I don’t mention the wonderful network of family and friends God has blessed me with. Like the popular adage goes “it takes a village”……..
What were the biggest initial hurdles and how did I overcome them?
Sahara nutrition comprises mainly researchers and academics who try to juggle academic jobs with entrepreneurship and this hasn’t been easy at all. As a small enterprise we have to put in a lot of our time and resources as we have no funding to employ staff now. We know it’s a temporal setback, we will get there very soon!
As an individual, I identify myself as a pragmatist and go getter! So, I can’t stand procrastination. If I have an idea or there is work to be done, why wait? But that isn’t how everyone works so I recognize and appreciate these differences better now, and I have also learnt that not everything needs an immediate action.
What books are you currently reading?
My job involves a lot of sitting behind the desk, reading scientific papers and writing. So, I try to walk almost every day. I have subscribed to the Audible App and so every month I have a new audiobook which I listen to only when I go for walks.
This month’s audiobook is “The power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg. I have been reading a lot of behavioural psychology books for the last couple of months because of a behaviour change intervention that Sahara Nutrition is undertaking in collaboration with CAHN i.e. the Sahara TLC (Total Lifestyle change) Challenge. I also love personal development books, so last month I listened to “Get organized: Do more in less time” by Ciara Conton.
What advice would you give to an upcoming youth or talents locally and internationally?
1. It might seem like a cliché but really, I don’t think there are any shortcuts to success! You just need to put in the work, success doesn’t just happen.
2. Don’t compare yourself to others, everyone is on their journey! Focus on yours, seek for mentorship, ask questions, ask for help! You cannot do it alone. Others have walked similar paths and can help make your path easier, so please learn to reach out.
3. Finally, when you are offered a professional opportunity, that may seem daunting, never decline! Accept it and find a way to do it! There is always a way or an excuse. The choice is yours!
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