+3 funding, commenced in 2014 (PhD in Demography)
I studied Biological Anthropology at Kent (BSc, 2006-2009) and then took a few years out to save up to go traveling around South East Asia. When I returned, I completed my MSc in Reproductive & Sexual Health Research at LSHTM, during which I decided to pursue my PhD. I am part of the Evolutionary Demography Group at the school and have presented my MSc findings at two European conferences. I am also interested in promoting reproductive and sexual health and have previously volunteered with the Family Planning Association and Brook and have been working part-time since June 2014 as a Sexual Health Outreach Worker with the Terrence Higgins Trust.
Guided by the evolutionary framework of life history theory, my research investigates whether environmental factors are pathways through which socioeconomic status (SES) effects on breastfeeding outcomes are mediated. My research will do this by: (i) using existing datasets to further explore socioeconomic patterning in breastfeeding initiation, duration and exclusivity, and the reasons why London, and other urban centres, may be exceptional; (ii) conducting qualitative research within London to better understand the links between perceptions of local environments and infant feeding behaviour, and how environmental factors impact the constraints that may prevent desired breastfeeding. I am particularly interested in how the sociocultural and physical environment interact to affect socioeconomic patterns of breastfeeding and whether individual environmental perception moderates the relationship between environmental quality and breastfeeding outcomes.
The difference my research makes
My research is interdisciplinary and uses mixed methods, combining insights from evolutionary biology and anthropology within a topic of demographic interest.
The environment can be modified to improve health outcomes with less onus or pressure put on the individual and is therefore a useful avenue for intervention in breastfeeding. Breastfeeding is a particularly emotive process with women’s sense of self-worth and value intrinsically linked to its success, and as such a shift from the individual towards the environment in infant feeding discourse, and indeed interventions, would be helpful in improving emotional wellbeing of mothers and in turn, the health of their children. Furthermore, by focusing on differences in environmental quality, we can draw attention towards core economic inequities and concentrate on the benefits to be yielded through structural change. Important questions to address include: What elements of the environment are driving the effects? What are the specific processes through which the environment affects breastfeeding? How does subjective perception affect any association? What are the spatial scales at which these processes operate? What aspects can we change in order to improve attainment of breastfeeding recommendations? My research will go some way to answering these questions.
Research hasn’t comprehensively answered why SES and breastfeeding are linked, and in particular, has not answered (or even asked) this question at an ultimate, evolutionary level. If we relate SES and breastfeeding relationships back to life history theory, it can be hypothesised that environmental conditions will alter parental investment trade-offs, including those involving breastfeeding. By considering both objective and subjective measures of sociocultural and physical environment quality, my project will determine whether variation in socioecological contexts within the UK can explain differences in breastfeeding behaviour.
Dr Rebecca Sear: http://www.lshtm.ac.uk/aboutus/people/sear.rebecca
Dr David W Lawson: http://www.lshtm.ac.uk/aboutus/people/lawson.david