New research director for Growing Up in New Zealand

Boyd Swinburn

Growing Up in New Zealand’s new interim research director is Professor Boyd Swinburn: a father and grandfather; a keen kayak fisherman; and a world-renowned public health researcher, with a passion for research that makes a difference in the real world. 

Growing Up in New Zealand’s new interim research director is Professor Boyd Swinburn:  a father and grandfather; a keen kayak fisherman; and a world-renowned public health researcher, with a passion for research that makes a difference in the real world. 

Boyd has taken over the role of research director, now that Professor Susan Morton has moved on to become the Foundation Director for the study. 

He is excited to take up the mantle of Growing Up in New Zealand and lead the study into its second decade. 

Growing Up in New Zealand is taonga – it’s a truly precious resource to help the children of today and tomorrow.

“I’m really thrilled to be working on such a large research enterprise and I’m keen to get stuck in to continue to support it to be a world-leading study which grows our understanding of what it’s like for kids to grow up in the world today,” he says. 

Boyd says Growing Up in New Zealand is unique because the research that comes out of the study is directly delivered to Government to inform policy.  He says it’s satisfying to be involved in a research project which has such direct practical outcomes. 

It’s something he’s used to from his previous work.  Boyd trained as a doctor, but early on moved into the research field and specialized in public health in the areas of obesity and diabetes.  

He has developed an international reputation as public health researcher and coined the term: the “obesogenic environment”.  The phrase which is now commonly used internationally sums up the fact that it is our environments that are primary drivers of the obesity epidemic which much of the modern world is now grappling with. 

Boyd says his understanding of the way society, and the environments we live in, impact our health came nearly 30 years ago when he was working in the USA with an indigenous American Indian tribe called the Pima.

“I had a ‘penny drop’ moment doing research with the Pima Indians, three-quarters of whom suffer from diabetes.  When I visited their reservation, I realised that their history, the environment in which they live, and the social issues they had to deal had a much greater impact on their health and wellbeing than anything else,” he says. 

Boyd says once he saw the “big picture” it became obvious that this was far more important than the metabolic processes occurring inside the body. 

He has continued with this work for the past 30 years and is particularly proud of a number of community interventions he helped to introduce in Australia, Fiji and Tonga to help prevent obesity in children and teenagers. 

Boyd is married with three adult children who live all over the world and is a proud grandfather to two grandchildren living in Spain.

He is happiest when kayak fishing at Pakiri Beach, north of Auckland and enjoys nothing more than being out on the ocean gathering kai.