Research Program Overview
A declaration by the United Nations (UN) in 2010 stated that “maternal and child health is inextricably linked with non-communicable diseases (NCD) such as obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes later in life and that maternal obesity and gestational diabetes are associated with similar risks in both the mother and her offspring.”
To address the issue of prevention of NCDs from early life, Dr. Atkinson’s research centres on developmental programming as influenced by environmental exposures (such as nutrition, physical activity, stress) during fetal, neonatal and early childhood life, which may program metabolic regulation thereby altering normal growth, body composition and risk of major NCDs in childhood and adult life.
Primary Research: Perinatal programming that influences health outcomes
Secondary Research: Nutrition and bone metabolism.
Dr. Atkinson’s current research program is focused on clinical trial and epidemiological investigations of the environmental (nutrition), genetic and biochemical factors during fetal, neonatal and early childhood life that play a role in defining the offspring phenotype and as risk determinants for non-communicable diseases. Such research includes a prospective, longitudinal birth cohort study to follow children to 10 years of age that focuses on early determinants of obesity, diabetes, and risk of cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis. She leads a multi-disciplinary team of researchers in the conduct of randomized clinical intervention trials of nutrition and exercise in pregnancy (named B-HIP – Be Healthy in Pregnancy), designed to reduce excess gestational weight gain and to optimize maternal and child health outcomes including bone health. Research facilities include wet laboratory based investigations for analysis of biomarkers of nutritional status and metabolism and measures of bone and body composition using dual energy x-ray absorptiometry and bioimpedence; as well as dry lab space for conduct of physical anthropometry and other clinical measures.
Dr. Atkinson is dedicated to the research training of clinician scientists from all health professions as evidenced by in her long standing position as McMaster Centre Leader for the Canadian Child Health Clinician Scientist Program (CCHCSP), and also as Chair of the Institute Advisory Board of the Institute of Nutrition, Metabolism and Diabetes of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR). She currently serves in other leadership roles as Chair of the Board of Directors of the Maternal, Infant, Child and Youth Health Research Network (MICYHRN), member of the Scientific Advisory Council for Osteoporosis Canada, Executive member of the Board of Trustees of the North American International Life Sciences Institute (Washington, DC) and the Paediatric Expert Advisory Committee of Health Products and Food Branch of Health Canada.