Professor Jennifer O'Dea

GradDipNutrDiet(Sydney), MPH(Calif), PhD(Sydney), BA(CSU)

Honorary Professor


Phone: +61 2 9351 6226

Fax: +61 2 9351 2606

Building.Room: A35.911

Research interests

Health and sport

  • Body image and identity
  • Health promotion

Research on teaching and learning

  • Health and physical education and development

Professional biography

Professor O'Dea is a nutritionist and health educator with a special interest in child and adolescent health and nutrition. She is involved in body image research and the prevention of eating disorders and child obesity.

After studying nutrition and dietetics at the University of Sydney, Professor O'Dea went on to work in nutrition education with the Australian Nutrition Foundation. In 1986 she travelled  to the USA to study for a Master's in Public Health Education at the University Of California, Berkeley. Three years later, in 1989, after completing a project on the NHLBI National Growth and Health Study, she returned to Australia to take up a lecturing position at the University of Sydney.

Professor O'Dea's doctoral studies focused on the prevention of body image problems and eating disorders among children and adolescents using a school-based, self-esteem approach. The promising results of this original research study have since been replicated by several researchers worldwide, paving the way for the implementation of this approach in the prevention of body-image problems and eating disorders in young people as well as in the treatment and prevention of child obesity.

Recent research from Professor O'Dea's group of collaborative researchers and students includes a 3 year followup study to the national “Youth Cultures of Eating” study which was a large national study of 9000 schoolchildren in 2000 and 2006 focusing on their eating habits, knowledge beliefs and attitudes about food, weight and health. The 2012 study will provide valuable data about the relationships between child health, social class and ethnicity over 12 years.

Research students working with Professor O'Dea have completed studies on a number of varied topics including the body image of Japanese adolescents; body image in adolescent males and females; the association between student literacy, numeracy and health variables such as sleep and breakfast; knowledge beliefs and attitudes of nutrition, obesity and eating disorders in trainee teachers and body image issues and the mesomorphic male ideal in men’s health magazines.

Professor O'Dea is the editor of a new book titled "Childhood Obesity Prevention" which was published internationally by Oxford University Press in the United Kingdom in 2010. 

She  is also well known for her contributions to the media and public debate about food, nutrition, body image and child health.


Professional and community roles

Current projects

  • 2011-2013 $452,000 3-year ARC Discovery Grant “An investigation of ethnicity, socio-economic status and social networks as drivers of childhood obesity and body image among children and adolescents” A/Prof Jennifer A O'Dea, A/Prof Michael J Dibley, A/Prof Liaquat Hossain This 3-year study addresses the problem of obesity and overweight in children and adolescents in Australia. It aims to build a longitudinal picture of relevant social, behavioural and environmental factors and includes a unique study of the role of social networks in determining and reinforcing understandings and prevalence of obesity and overweight.
  • 2011-2012 $75,066 2-year Anti-Doping Research Program Grant – Commonwealth Government “Nutritional supplements and weight gain behaviours in male adolescents from 2000-2010: implications for anti-doping interventions and school education.” A/Prof Jennifer O’Dea, Dr Zali Yager. A 2 year replication of an earlier study that analyses the prevalence of nutritional supplementation and weight gain behaviours of male adolescents in 2011 compared with the findings of an earlier study in 2000.
  • 2009-2010 $60,000 1 year University of Sydney Large TIES Grant Medical students and teacher educators as adolescent lifestyle educators: bringing community involvement into the classroom Dr S. Shah, Associate Professor M. Dibley & Associate Professor J.A O’Dea. A 1-year Teaching and Learning Grant to develop, implement and evaluate the use of Peer Leader training and teacher education in the delivery of health education lessons to secondary school children in Western Sydney schools.
  • 2006-2010 $460,000 5 year ARC Discovery Grant The well-rounded person : the role of sport in shaping physical, emotional and social development Assoc. Prof C. Lumby, Prof. E. Probyn, Dr J.A. O’Dea. A 5-year longitudinal study of the beliefs, attitudes and behaviours of primary and high school students, university students and those involved in community sports regarding their participation in sports and physical activities.
  • 2005-2007 $314,000 3 year ARC Discovery Grant Youth cultures of eating: a comparative cultural analysis of youth obesity, gender,class, ethnicity and age Prof E.C. Probyn & Dr J.A. O’Dea. A 3-year national study of school students, teachers and parents and their knowledge, beliefs and attitudes about child obesity and its prevention.

Current research students

Project title Degree Research student
Perceptions of body weight, shape, obesity and body image among generations of Australian Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal women PhD Renata Cinelli
Impact of a self esteem and body image improvement intervention among secondary school males and females. MPhil Kym Rizzo Liu
Pre-service physical education teachers' perceptions of strategies to body image pedagogy. PhD Michelle Gorzanelli
An exploration of mental health and well-being promotion in a boy's school. PhD Anna Mugridge
Longitudinal analysis of body image and self-concept in a 6 year cohort of male and female early adolescents. PhD Huei Wen Chiang

Selected publications


Book chapters

  • O’Dea, J.A. & Cinelli, R.L. (2012). Eating Disorder Prevention Programs On The University Campus. In O'Dea, JA. (Ed.), Current issues and controversies in school and community health, sport and physical education. New York, USA: Nova Science.
  • O'Dea JA. (2012). Body image in adolescents. . In Steinbeck, K. (Ed.), Adolescent medicine: Key issues in clinical care New York: World Scientific.
  • O'Dea JA. (2012). Benefits of developing a whole school approach to health promotion. . In Baur, Twigg & Magnussen (Eds.) (Ed.), A Modern Epidemic - Expert Perspectives on Obesity and Diabetes. (pp. 146–160), Sydney: Sydney University Press.
  • O'Dea JA. (2012). Preventing Body Image Problems – School-based Approaches. In Cash, T.F. (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Body Image and Human Appearance. (1st ed., Vol. 1, pp. 133–139), San Diego: Academic Press.
  • O'Dea JA. (2012). Body image and self-esteem. In Cash, T.F. (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Body Image and Human Appearance. Major reference works. (Vol. 2, pp. 242–248), San Diego, USA.: Academic Press.
  • Chisuwa, N. & O'Dea, J.A. (2011). An Historical Perspective of Body Image and Body Image Concerns among Male and Female Adolescents in Japan . In Sophia B. Greene (Ed.), Body Image: Perceptions, Interpretations and Attitudes (1st ed., pp. 1–14), New York, USA: Nova Publishers.
  • Cinelli, R. & O’Dea, J.A. . (2011). Body Image Among Aboriginal Children and Adolescents in Australia . In Sophia B. Greene (Ed.), Body Image: Perceptions, Interpretations and Attitudes (1st ed., pp. 14–28), New York: Nova Science.
  • O’Dea, J.A. and Yager, Z. . (2011). School-based Psychoeducational Approaches to Prevention . In Thomas F. Cash and Linda Smolak (Eds.), Body Image: A Handbook of Science, Practice, and Prevention, 2nd Edition, (2nd ed., pp. 434–441), New York, USA: Guilford.
  • O'Dea, J.A. & Dibley, M.J. (2010). Relationships between overweight, obesity and gender, age, ethnicity, school SES and school year among Australian schoolchildren in 2000 and 2006. . In O'Dea, J.A. & Eriksen, M.E. (Ed.), Childhood Obesity Prevention - International Research, Controversies and Interventions (pp. 95–104), Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, UK. 95-104..
  • O'Dea, J.A. (2010). Whole-School and Health Promoting School Approaches to obesity prevention Government Policy directions in Australia between 2000 and 2010 . In O'Dea, J.A. & Eriksen, M.E. (Ed.), Childhood Obesity Prevention - International Research, Controversies and Interventions (pp. 278–300), Oxford, UK.: Oxford University Press, UK..
  • O’Dea, J.A. (2010) . (2010). Developing positive approaches to nutrition education and the prevention of child and adolescent obesity: First, do no harm. . In O'Dea, J.A. & Eriksen, M.E. (Ed.), Childhood Obesity Prevention - International Research, Controversies and Interventions. (pp. 31–42), Oxford, UK.: Oxford University Press, UK..
  • O'Dea, J.A. (2009). Body image among Australian adolescents – a preventive, school-based approach . In Bennett, D., Towns, S.Elliot, E., Merrick, J. (Ed.), Adolescent health. An Australian perspective. (pp. 113–130), New York, USA: Nova Publishers.
  • O'Dea J.A. (2009). Considerations in the prevention of obesity among children and adolescents : First, do no harm. In Douglas, J., Earle, J. et al (Eds) (Ed.), Promoting Public Health. London, UK: Sage Publishers , UK..
  • O'Dea, J. (2007). Body image and health in children and adolescents. In , Everybody's Different: A positive approach to teaching about health, puberty, body image, nutrition, self-esteem and obesity prevention (pp. 1–16), Camberwell, Australia: Australian Council for Educational Research Limited.
  • O'Dea, J. (2007). Body image and eating problems among boys and girls. In , Everybody's Different: A positive approach to teaching about health, puberty, body image, nutrition, self-esteem and obesity prevention (pp. 17–34), Camberwell, Australia: Australian Council for Educational Research Limited.
  • O'Dea, J. (2007). Positive body image programs in schools. In , Everybody's Different: A positive approach to teaching about health, puberty, body image, nutrition, self-esteem and obesity prevention (pp. 35–50), Camberwell, Australia: Australian Council for Educational Research Limited.
  • O'Dea, J. (2007). The role of teachers in body image development and prevention of obesity. In , Everybody's Different: A positive approach to teaching about health, puberty, body image, nutrition, self-esteem and obesity prevention (pp. 279–297), Camberwell, Australia: Australian Council for Educational Research Limited.
  • O'Dea, J, Yager, Z. (2006). Body image and eating disorders in male adolescents and young men. In P I Swain (Ed.), New Developments in Eating Disorders Research (pp. 1–36), New York: Nova Science Publishers, Inc.
  • Yager, Z, O'Dea, J. (2006). Body image issues, eating disorders and their prevention in male and female college students. In M V Landow (Ed.), Stress and Mental Health of College Students (Vol. 1, pp. 261–305), New York: Nova Science Publishers, Inc..
  • O'Dea, J, Yager, Z. (2005). Eating disorders among boys and young men. In P I Swain (Ed.), New Developments in Eating Disorders Research (pp. 3–26), New York: Nova Science Publishers, Inc.

Journal articles

  • O'Dea J.A. & Mugridge, A.M. (2012). Nutritional quality of breakfast and physical activity independently predict the literacy and numeracy scores of children after adjusting for socioeconomic status. . Health Education Research. DOI:doi: 10.1093/her/cys069
  • O'Dea JA. Dibley MJ & Rankin NM. (2012). Low sleep and low socio-economic status predict high BMI: a 4-year longitudinal study of Australian schoolchildren . Pediatric Obesity. DOI:DOI:10.1111/j.2047.6310.2012.000
  • O’Dea JA, Nguyen Hoang Doan T & Dibley MJ. (2011). Plateau in obesity and overweight in a cross sectional study of low, middle and high socioeconomic schoolchildren between 2004-2009 . International Journal of Public Health, 55(6), 663–667. DOI:10.1007/s00038-011-0280-6
  • O'Dea JA & Peralta LR. (2011). Perceptions of the teaching practicum among human movement and health education students in Australia: The role of university coursework, university school partnerships and e-learning. . Waikato Journal of Education , 16(1), 79–94.
  • O'Dea JA & Amy NK. (2011). Perceived and desired weight, weight related eating and exercising behaviors, and advice received from parents among thin, overweight, obese or normal weight Australian children and adolescents . International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity , 8:68. DOI:doi:10.1186/1479-5868-8-68
  • O'Dea JA & Wagstaff S. (2011). Increased breakfast frequency and nutritional quality among schoolchildren after a national breakfast promotion campaign in Australia between 2000 and 2006 . Health Education Research. DOI:doi: 10.1093/her/cyr042
  • O’Dea, J.A. . (2010). Studies of obesity, body image and related health issues among Australian adolescents: How can programs in schools interact with and complement each other? . Journal of Student Wellbeing , 4(2), 3–16.
  • Yager, Z. & O'Dea, J.A. (2010). A controlled intervention to promote a healthy body image,reduce eating disorder risk and prevent excessive exercise among trainee health education and physical education teachers. . Health Education Research , 23rd Jul. DOI:doi 10.1093/her/cyq036
  • Chisuwa, N. and O’Dea, J.A. (2009). Body image and eating disorders among Japanese adolescents: A review of the literature . Appetite. DOI:doi:10.1016/j.appet.2009.11.008
  • O'Dea , J.A. (2009). A Self Perception Score from Zero to Ten Correlates Well With Standardized Scales of Adolescent Self Esteem, Body Dissatisfaction, Eating Disorders Risk, Depression and Anxiety. International Journal of Adolescent Medicine and Health , 21(4), 509–517.
  • O’Dea, J.A . (2009). School-based media literacy activities for promoting a positive body image among primary and secondary schoolchildren. AULA, Educación en comunicación (Spanish) , 178, 25–29.
  • Chalker, B. and O’Dea, J.A . (2009). Fat kids can't do maths: Negative body weight stereotyping and associations with academic competence and participation in school activities among primary school children. The Open Education Journal , 2(7), 71–77. DOI:10.2174/1874920800902010071
  • Yager, Z, O'Dea, J. (2009). Body image, dieting and disordered eating and activity practices among teacher trainees: implications for school-based health education and obesity prevention programs. Health Education Research, 24(3), 472–483. DOI:10.1093/her/cyn044
  • O’Dea, J.A. and Dibley, M. (2009). Obesity increase among low SES Australian schoolchildren between 2000 and 2006: Time for preventive interventions to target children from low income schools?. International Journal of Public Health . DOI:DOI 10.1007/s00038-009-0079-x
  • Cinelli, R.L. and O’Dea, J.A. (2009). Body image and obesity among Australian adolescents from Indigenous and Anglo/European backgrounds: implications for health promotion and obesity prevention among Aboriginal youth. Health Education Research . DOI:doi: 10.1093/her/cyp040
  • Yager, Z, O'Dea, J. (2008). Prevention programs for body image and eating disorders on University campuses: a review of large, controlled interventions. Health Promotion International, 23(2), 174–189. DOI:10.1093/heapro/dan004
  • O'Dea, J. (2008). Gender, ethnicity, culture and social class influences on childhood obesity among Australian schoolchildren: implications for treatment, prevention and community education. Health and Social Care in the Community, 16(3), 282–290.
  • Crouch, P, O'Dea, J, Battisti, R. (2007). Child feeding practices and perceptions of childhood overweight and childhood obesity risk among mothers of preschool children. Nutrition & Dietetics, 64(3), 151–158.
  • O'Dea, J. (2007). Are we OK or are we not?. Journal of the Home Economics Institute of Australia, 14(3), 6–14.

Conference papers

  • Rowley, J. & O'Dea, J.A. (2010). Perception of how e-learning enhances the university learning experience among teacher education undergraduates. . In D. Gibson & B. Dodge Proceedings of Society for Information Technology & Teacher Education International Conference 2010 Chesapeake, VA: AACE. (pp. 822–828). San Diego, USA, 29-30 March, 2010.
  • O'Dea, J.A. & Rowley, J. (2010). A Quantitative Comparison of Change Over 12 months in Trainee Music and PE Teachers Experiences and Perceptions of E-Learning and a Qualitative Summary of Perceived Benefits and Enjoyment. . In 5th International Conference on e-Learning, Universiti Sains Malaysia, Penang, Malaysia. (pp. 307–317). Universiti Sains Malaysia, Penang, Malaysia., 12th-13th July 2010.
  • Rowley, J. & O’Dea, J.A. (2009). How do students perceive the enhancement of their own learning? A comparison of two Education Faculties’ experiences in building an online learning community for Bachelor of Music Education & Bachelor of Education students . In Refereed paper presented at ‘Teacher education crossing borders: Cultures, contexts, communities and curriculum’ the annual conference of the Australian Teacher Education Association (ATEA) . Albury, NSW, 28 June – 1 July, 2009.