McMaster University

McMaster University

Stephanie Atkinson

Dr. Stephanie Atkinson

Professor, Department of Pediatrics

Associate Member, Department of Biochemistry and Biomedical Sciences

Ph: 905-521-2100 x. 75644
Fx: 905-308-7548
Em: satkins@mcmaster.ca
Alternate Link: Profile

Administrative Contact:
Elizabeth Fonseca
Ph: 905-521-2100 x. 75644
Fx: 905-308-7548
Em: fonseca@mcmaster.ca


Research Theme

Perinatal programming especially related to nutrition and exercise as determinants of adult disease

Primary Research:  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

Secondary Research: Bone Metabolism


Key words

Perinatal nutrition; clinical trials; infant and child metabolic development and skeletal growth 

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.


Current Projects

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.

Selected Publications

  •  Atkinson SA. Determinants of vitamin D status in early infancy.  Research Commentary J. Amer  Dietetic Assoc. 2011;111:1820-1.
  • Morrison KM, Xu L, Tarnopolsky M, Yusuf Z, Atkinson SA, Yusuf S. Screening for dysglycemia in overweight youth presenting for weight management. Diabetes Care. 2012; 35(4):711-6.
  • Josse AR, Atkinson SA, Tarnopolsky MA,  Phillips SM. Diets higher in dairy and total dietary  protein during diet- and exercise-induced weight loss preserve bone  health in overweight  and obese young women. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2012;97(1):251-60
  • Rodd C, Lang B, Ramsay T, Alos N, Huber AM, Cabral DA, Scuccimarri R, Miettunen PM, Roth J, Atkinson SA et al; Canadian Steroid-Associated Osteoporosis in the Pediatric Population (STOPP) Consortium. Incident vertebral fractures among children with rheumatic disorders 12 months after glucocorticoid initiation: a national observational study. Arthritis Care Res (Hoboken). 2012;64(1):122-31.
  • Atkinson SA.  Impact of Pregnancy Nutrition on Offspring Bone Development.  In: Gussler J, Graham MA, eds. Pregnancy Nutrition and Later Health Outcomes: Report of the 112th Abbott Nutrition Research Conference.  Columbus, Ohio: Abbot Nutrition; 2012:97-109.
  • Joly MP, Boivin M, Junker A, Bocking A, Kramer MS, Atkinson SA.  An inventory of Canadian pregnancy and birth cohort studies: research in progress.  BMC Pregnancy Childbirth. 2012,   12:117. 
  • Morrison KM, Anand SS, Yusuf S, Atkinson SA, Schulze KM, et al. Maternal and Pregnancy Related Predictors of Cardiometabolic Traits in Newborns. PLoS ONE. 2013; 8(2): e55815.
  • Pritchard JM, Papaioannou A, Tomowich C, Giangregorio LM, Atkinson SA, Beattie KA, Adachi JD, DeBeer J, Winemaker M, Avram V, Schwarcz HP.  Bone mineralization is elevated and less heterogeneous in adults with type 2 diabetes and osteoarthritis compared to controls with osteoarthritis alone.  Bone. 2013 54: 76-82. 
  • Walji R, Wahoush O, Atkinson SA.  Feasibility and Acceptance of a Novel Nutrition and Exercise Intervention to Manage Excess Gestational Weight Gain: Focus group study in Ontario, Canada.  Primary Health Care. 2013 3:134.
  • Rodrigopulle DJ, Atkinson SA. Validation of surrogate limb analysis for body composition in children by DXA. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2014;44:1-5.
  • Lupton JR, Atkinson SA, Chang N, Fraga CG, Levy J, Messina M, Richardson DP, van Omme B, Yang Y, Griffiths JC, Hathcock J. Exploring the benefits and challenges of establishing a DRI- like process for bioactives. Eur J Nutr. 2014;53 Suppl 1:1-9.
  • Ma J , Siminoski K , Alos N , Halton J , Ho J , Lentle B , Matzinger M , Shenouda N , Atkinson S, Barr R , Cabral DA , Couch R , Cummings EA , Fernandez CV , Grant RM , Rodd C , Marie Sbrocchi A , Scharke M , Rauch F , Ward LM. The Choice of Normative Pediatric Reference Database Changes Spine Bone Mineral Density Z-scores But Not The Relationship of Bone Mineral Density With Prevalent Vertebral Fractures. J Clin Endo Metab. 2015 Mar;100(3):1018-27.  :
  • Doubelt I, Totosy de Zepetnek J, MacDonald MJ, Atkinson SA. Influences of nutrition and adiposity on bone mineral density in individuals with chronic spinal cord injury: A cross-sectional, observational study. Bone Reports (in press February 2015)

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