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Improving the management of obesity in horses through qualitative research

Institute of Infection and Global Health

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Dr R Christley No more applications being accepted Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

About the Project

Obesity is a common and serious problem among horses in the UK affecting 1-in-5 horses (rising to 1-in-4 among older horses). Research has highlighted that obesity increases the risk of diseases of major health and welfare concern, many with serious, crippling and potentially life-threatening consequences.
To date, the vast majority of research on equine obesity has been quantitative. However, qualitative research studies have significantly improved understanding of human obesity by uncovering peoples’ awareness, motivations and other factors driving decision-making about lifestyle, diet and health, and examining the resultant actions and behaviours. This project will apply qualitative research methods to develop understanding of owners’ (and others’) perspectives of equine obesity, and to explore underlying assumptions and uncover discrepancies between what horse owners and veterinary professionals think they do to tackle obesity and what they actually do. The project will draw upon from long-standing active collaborations between veterinary and social scientists at the University of Liverpool.
This project will utilise a mixed-methods approach, including one-to-one in-depth interviews, focus-group discussions and case-study observations, in order to gain a rich and detailed understanding of the experiences, perceptions and behaviours of equine veterinary surgeons and other key advice-givers, and crucially, their interactions with horse-owners to understand how issues of obesity are communicated and understood.
The information generated form this study will be used to develop new strategies to improve weight management and prevent the consequences of obesity through better communication and owner engagement.

The student will gain expertise in a range of key skills throughout the project through both formal and informal training. Training will include generic career and research skills as well as specific scientific skills, particularly focused on the application of qualitative research to animal health.
The student also will be encouraged to participate in a number of relevant Masters-level modules from both the Master of Public Health (e.g. ‘Introduction to qualitative research methods’ and ‘Health and Society’) and Master in Veterinary Science (e.g. Animals and Society).

Research environment
The successful candidate will join the ‘People & Animals, & Their Health in Society’ (PATHS) group at the University of Liverpool, based at the Leahurst Campus. The PATHS group ( brings together a multidisciplinary team of researchers to investigate the interplay between people and animals, and impacts on health, disease and wellbeing. The group includes postgraduate students (currently 8 PhD students) and postdoctoral researchers.

************Applicants should apply by forwarding a cover letter and CV to [Email Address Removed]**********************

Funding Notes

The studentship includes all fees and research costs and a support stipend (£14,000, or £21,000 for a veterinary graduate).

This PhD studentship would be suitable for a UK or EU graduate with a degree in Veterinary Science, related biological science or social science; some research experience and an interest in equine health and welfare is essential. Experience in qualitative research methods is not essential. Prior experience of qualitative research is not essential, but an understanding of the role and application of these methods, and the ways they are distinct from, but may complement, quantitative methods would also be desirable.
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