Dr Tarra Penney

Research Associate

Email: tarra.penney@mrc-epid.cam.ac.uk

UKCRC Centre for Diet and Activity Research (CEDAR)
MRC Epidemiology Unit
University of Cambridge School of Clinical Medicine
Box 285 Institute of Metabolic Science
Cambridge Biomedical Campus
Cambridge, CB2 0QQ

Current work & interests

Tarra is a Research Associate with the Food Systems and Public Health programme led by Prof Martin White. She is supporting the system level evaluation of the Soft Drinks Industry Levy, a nation-wide policy to reduce sugar in soft drinks by targeting importers and manufacturers. This evaluation serves as the first study grounded in a ‘systems approach’ to evaluate whether, how and in whom the levy has an effect on health. Additionally, the evaluation will examine the process by which the tax came about, as well as a wider change in political, societal and industry attitudes.

The aim of Tarra’s research is to improve the prevention of obesity and chronic disease by studying the effects of food system change on population level diet and health. As changes within the food system (i.e. intervention strategies) often occur outside of the domain of public health and within a wider social, economic, organisational and political context, she is interested in exploring the utility of holistic rather than reductionist approaches to understand how these interventions work or why they fail.

Tarra has particular experience in cross-sectional and longitudinal quantitative data analysis using the National Diet and Nutrition Survey and the UK Household Longitudinal Survey (i.e. Understanding Society) respectively to examine environmental influences and usage of the out of home food sector on diet and weight. In addition she has experience in developing systems level theories of change using the tacit knowledge of academic and non-academic stakeholders, undertaking qualitative studies using interviews and focus groups with multi-sectoral members, conducting realist and systematic reviews and synthesis, and developing creative ways to engage the public around the structural barriers to healthy eating..

Background & experience

Tarra completed her PhD at CEDAR in dietary public health with a focus on improving our understanding of how and under what circumstances a change in local food availability may influence population level diet and weight. Her studentship was funded by the Cambridge Trusts. Prior to her PhD, Tarra studied cognitive psychology and computer science, completed a CIHR funded Master’s degree in health promotion, and published in the area of obesity with a focus on population health intervention research as a Research Associate with Dr Sara Kirk at the Healthy Populations Institute in Canada. She has also completed a two year CIHR training fellowship in Population Intervention for Chronic Disease Prevention, a pan-Canadian program with the PROPEL Centre for Population Health Impact where she received mentorship from leading Canadian researchers in the field.