Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Mollie Holman Medal Winner: Dr Chris Morrison

The School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine is proud to have not just one, but two winners of the annual Mollie Holman Medal among its researchers for 2016. The decision to award two medals is highly unusual and reflects the consistently high calibre of research produced within the School.

The medal is awarded to those students judged to have presented the best doctoral thesis each year. In order for two students to win in the same School both Faculty and Research Graduate School judges must be unable to decide a single winner.

Dr Chris Morrison received one of the awards for his work exploring relationships between ease of access to alcohol and alcohol related injuries. 

alcoholPrevious research had shown that there are a higher number of alcohol outlets including bars, restaurants and liquor stores in lower income areas. There are also more alcohol related assaults and injuries taking place in these areas.

Chris’s research revealed that alcohol outlets try to locate themselves in high income areas to meet the demand of local residents, who typically drink more alcohol than low income earners.  However, they are often driven into lower income areas, potentially because of high rental costs or pressure by community groups. People from higher income areas will travel to them in order to drink.

Chris received a grant from the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE) to explore correlations between take-away liquor outlets and injury. He says,

“It was clear that there were more injuries in areas with more take-away alcohol outlets, but the data hadn’t been available to figure out exactly what characteristics of these places mattered most.”

Chris and a team of Research Assistants visited 300 liquor stores across Melbourne, taking stock inventories and noting prices, store size and whether the outlet was part of a chain. They cross-referenced this with ambulance call outs for intentional and unintentional injuries. The data showed that chain-style outlets contributed substantially more to both types of injury than independent retailers. These chain stores tend to be bigger and sell cheaper alcohol.

“Collecting and analysing this kind of information can take alcohol related planning and policy from the intuitive realm into evidence-based practice, so policy-makers and councils can better predict the consequences of granting licences. The study has already been cited in a council-led appeal against planning permission for a large chain-style alcohol outlet.”

Since conducting his award-winning work, Chris has relocated to Philadelphia, in the US, where he is investigating how the built environment affects injury rates and types at the University of Pennsylvania. He says,

“I’m honoured to win this award and look forward to building on the skills I gained in the PhD program at SPHPM.”

Watch out for our upcoming profile of co-winner of the Mollie Holman medal, Dr Ingrid Hopper.

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