Growing Health Innovation with Helen Eyles

20 August 2019

NIHI turns 30 this year. That’s 30 years of ground-breaking work that has help shape research, informed policy and driven innovation. In the lead up to our conference celebration, we spoke to the team and found out more about the people behind the work. Next we spoke to Dr Helen Eyles, Senior Research Fellow.

Dr Helen Eyles (R) with the SALTS research team members (L-R) Shisty Shrestha, Neela Bhana, Jacqi Grey and Dianne Wood

Thinking back, where were you 30 years ago when NIHI was first forming?

I was growing up in a very standard household of two children and two parents in my home town of Whanganui, where all of my immediate family still live. I would have been 10 or 11 years old, so at primary school, and I remember having already found a love for cooking and the outdoors, which I inherited from my parents. Weekends consisted of a lot of baking, trips to the beach and park, swimming, and bike rides.

Why did you choose to join NIHI?

I was inspired by the rigorous and contemporary public health research projects being undertaken at NIHI. I joined NIHI over a decade ago, and at the time research trials were already underway in fields still very topical and important today, such as text messaging for health; food taxes and subsidies; and natural, plant-based smoking cessation products.

What is exciting to you about research/technology/public health today?

The ability to reach and help large numbers of people in the community through the use of technology. Mobile phones, tablets, and other handheld devices not only help with the delivery of interventions, but they are excellent vehicles for collecting rich health data, which can be returned to the rightful owner in a format that promotes health. 

What are you working on now that would have been unthinkable 30 years ago?

A large, randomised controlled trial of a blood pressure-lowering intervention. For this trial, participants take their own blood pressure at home, and the results are automatically and directly sent NIHI servers, greatly reducing the burden on both participants and researchers while improving the accuracy of data. The intervention package also includes a smartphone application (app) to help with making healthier food choices in the supermarket - we can see how often the app is being used and on which food products. The use of these technologies enables us to better deliver and measure the impact of our intervention, and understand why (or why not) it is working. 

Looking forward, what do you hope we solve in the next 30 years?

Someone once asked me what my vision for my work was, and I replied 'healthy, sustainable, accessible diets for everyone'. This is a very big 'problem' to solve in a 30-year time-frame, but it is what motivates me. If we achieve this we will go a long way to reducing the prevalence and burden of many diet-related diseases.

Join us in celebrating 30 years of NIHI. Growing from humble beginnings, our ground-breaking work has shaped research, informed policy and driven innovation. More information about, and registration for, our upcoming conference can be found here.