Grad Student Wins Prestigious Women’s Health Scholarship

June 25, 2012 - News Release

A University of Guelph graduate student studying the link between body image and insulin restriction among women has received a prestigious national scholarship.

Robyn Tyo won an Ontario Women’s Health Scholars Master’s Award. The $19,000 scholarship was one of five Women’s Health Scholars Awards presented this month. The program is funded by the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care and administered by the Council of Ontario Universities and its affiliate, the Ontario Council on Graduate Studies.

Open to graduate students and post-doctoral researchers, the awards are intended to help Ontario attract and retain scholars in women’s health.

“Quite honestly, I didn't think I would be awarded the scholarship, especially because there were only two awards for the master’s level,” Tyo said. “But I met the application qualifications and decided to apply. I didn't want to have any regrets.”

Tyo said she was in the library working on her thesis proposal when she received an email telling her she had won. “For a few minutes I was too shocked to process the news, but I was ecstatic. I even re-read the letter a few times to make sure it wasn’t a mistake.”

“I am honoured to think that my research is deserving of such support. I am so passionate about this work and am very excited to continue learning about an issue that affects so many women.”

Tyo will interview women who restrict insulin to control weight, a dangerous but common behaviour among women with Type 1 diabetes.

“I would like to explore how body image influences a woman’s decision to jeopardize her health in this way,” she said.

“My research project is unique because it is focused less on the outcomes — insulin adjustments and complications — and more on the reasons why women adjust their insulin to begin with.”

Insulin restriction may involve taking fewer doses than required, less insulin per dose, or not taking insulin at all.

“For people with type 1 diabetes who don't produce insulin within the body, adjusting their insulin doses is very dangerous,” Tyo said. “They can develop a host of problems that aren't usually seen until much later in life, such as kidney disease, blindness and nerve damage.

She said health-care professionals cannot lessen or prevent risk without understanding the issue.

“The award will allow me to focus on my participants and their experiences with trying to manage their body image issues as well as their diabetes, in order to better understand reasons for insulin adjusting.”

Tyo’s adviser is Prof. Judy Sheeshka, Department of Family Relations and Applied Nutrition, an expert in nutrition and diabetes research.

Tyo, who earned a B.A.Sc. in applied human nutrition from U of G in 2011, became interested in the subject of insulin misuse after hearing about it during a fourth-year class lecture.

“It didn't seem to fit into the same category as other eating disorders, and because it is unique to a small group of girls and women — those with type 1 diabetes — the issue seemed rather invisible.”

She had some experience working with diabetics. As an undergraduate, she volunteered with Diabetes Care Guelph on a project to improve the nutritional value of foods served to older adults with diabetes.

She has also volunteered in retirement homes and long-term care facilities, and in elementary and high school breakfast programs.

Her undergraduate research, also supervised by Sheeshka, involved interviewing homeless youth about how they procure food, as well as housing and employment challenges.

“Perhaps it was the novelty of my research or my previous work with vulnerable populations that set my application above the rest,” she said of receiving the Women’s Health Scholars award.

“I’ll never know what it was, but am very proud to have been selected. It’s a relief to know that I wouldn’t have to worry about funding; I just feel so grateful.”

For media questions, contact Communications and Public Affairs: Lori Bona Hunt, 519-824-4120, Ext. 53338, or, or Shiona Mackenzie, Ext. 56982, or

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