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Scholarships and grants

  • The March of Dimes awards community-based program grants.
  • Scholarships are available for graduate perinatal nurses.
  • The Agnes Higgins Award spotlights maternal-fetal nutrition.
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Agnes Higgins award, maternal-fetal nutrition

Established in 1980, the March of Dimes Agnes Higgins Award honors the late Agnes Higgins of the Montreal Diet Dispensary for her innovation and years of service to the cause of improved maternal nutrition. A pioneer in devising methods of nutritional assessment and counseling, Mrs. Higgins greatly advanced the understanding of eating healthy as a crucial factor in healthy pregnancy and prevention of low birthweight. The Agnes Higgins Award is presented in recognition of distinguished achievement in research, education or clinical services in the field of maternal-fetal nutrition.

Call for nominations
Nominations of candidates are being solicited for the 2013 and 2014 March of Dimes Agnes Higgins award. Please make your recommendations on or before March 30, 2013. The nomination form includes eligibility criteria, submission instructions and contact information.

Nomination criteria
Candidates for the Agnes Higgins Award must have:

  • Been widely involved in maternal-fetal nutrition through teaching, research and/or clinical practice for at least five years
  • Shown a demonstrable effect in raising the quality of maternal-fetal nutritional care through scholarly pursuits, research, education and/or practice
  • Demonstrated ability to apply maternal-fetal nutritional standards of practice and/or facilitate their implementation by others

Each statement below was written at the time the award was announced.

2013: Gary M. Shaw, DrPH
Dr. Gary Shaw, a perinatal epidemiologist and expert in birth defects, is Professor and Associate Chair of Clinical Research at Stanford University Medical School. Dr. Shaw is a prolific and well-funded researcher who has led many major studies that have expanded and refined knowledge about folate and neural tube defects (NTDs), as well as discovering relationships of other aspects of maternal nutritional status with NTDs. Many of his inquiries have extended beyond NTDs to include birth defects such as oral clefts, heart and limb anomalies and hypospadias. Dr. Shaw’s work is outstanding in its scope, creativity and methodological rigor. In addition, his cutting-edge consideration of gene-environment interactions as mechanisms for understanding the causes of birth defects is essential for effective screening and prevention. Dr. Shaw’s more than 300 published studies have also made groundbreaking contributions to knowledge about how other maternal lifestyle, and occupational, environmental and medical exposures contribute to both birth defects and other adverse fetal outcomes such as preterm birth and bronchopulmonary dysplasia.

An inspiring teacher and mentor to students and junior researchers and a highly sought-after speaker at professional meetings, Dr. Shaw serves as Associate Editor of several journals. He is a member of the Teratogen System Advisory Board and has served as a scientific advisor to numerous National Institute of Health committees. In 2007, he was awarded the Godfrey P. Oakley, Jr. Award by the National Birth Defects Prevention Network.

2012: Kathleen M. Rasmussen, ScD, RD
Dr. Kathleen Rasmussen is Professor of Nutrition in the Division of Nutritional Sciences and International Professor of Nutritional Science at Cornell University. She received her bachelor’s degree from Brown University in molecular biology and both her masters and doctoral degrees from Harvard University in nutrition.

Professor Rasmussen is internationally known for her research on maternal and child nutrition. She and her students have established that interventions to improve maternal nutritional status can increase the volume and improve the composition of human milk and, thereby, improve infant nutritional status. They have also shown that women who are overweight or obese at conception have problems establishing and maintaining breastfeeding and have babies who are heavier at one year of age than those of normal-weight women.

Professor Rasmussen has been a member of several expert committees at the Institute of Medicine. She was most recently the chair of the Committee on Reexamination of IOM Pregnancy Weight Guidelines and is currently chair of a committee charged with disseminating these guidelines. Professor Rasmussen developed and has served as Program Director for Cornell's NIH-sponsored training grant in maternal and child nutrition for 24 years. She has taught a nationally recognized course in maternal and child nutrition for graduate students since 1980 and has taught a unique course on public health nutrition for undergraduate students since 1998. She has received 2 awards from the American Society for Nutrition for education and mentoring.

Professor Rasmussen has served as the Secretary and then the President of the American Society of Nutritional Sciences (now the American Society for Nutrition) and also as the President of the International Society for Research on Human Milk and Lactation. She has previously been the Associate Dean and Secretary of the University Faculty and a member of Cornell’s Board of Trustees (2004-2008), elected by the University Faculty.

2011: Patrick M. Catalano, MD
Dr. Catalano’s research has focused on nutrition and metabolic conditions before and during pregnancy and how those conditions affect a fetus’ growth and how much body fat it gains. His research has shown that such infants born to obese mothers and mothers who have diabetes are heavier at birth and have a higher risk of developing metabolic disorders, including insulin resistance, a precursor to diabetes.

Dr. Catalano and his team discovered that the adiposity, or body fat content, of a baby is a strong indicator of poor or malnutrition during pregnancy. They also showed that babies of obese mothers are more likely to have fetal macrosomia, also knows a “big baby syndrome,” a common problem among babies of pregnant diabetic women. The infants are large for their gestational age because they receive too much sugar during pregnancy from the high blood sugar levels of their mothers. The baby’s pancreas senses the high sugar levels and produces more insulin in an attempt to use up all the extra sugar. That extra sugar is converted to fat, making a large baby. Dr. Catalano’s team also showed that the increase in fetal size associated with maternal obesity is fat, not lean tissue.

At present, Dr. Catalano’s research is focused on the effects of omega-3 fish oil supplementation on maternal-fetal inflammation and potential to affect fetal obesity.

Dr. Catalano is a highly respected administrator, teacher and mentor. In addition to numerous honors over the past 35 years, Dr. Catalano was president of the Perinatal Research Society as well as chair of the American Diabetes Association’s Pregnancy and Women’s Health Council and is currently co-chair of the National Institute for Child Health and Human Development Scientific Vision Group on Pregnancy. Dr. Catalano’s research has been supported by the National Institutes of Health for more than 25 years and he has written or co-authored more than 140 research articles.

2010: David Barker, MD, PhD, FRS
Dr. Barker is Professor of Clinical Epidemiology, University of Southampton, UK, and Professor, Department of Cardiovascular Medicine, Oregon Health and Science University. David Barker trained as a physician at Guy’s Hospital, London, and thereafter at the Queen Elizabeth Centre, Birmingham. After 3 years in Uganda, he moved to the University of Southampton in 1972. Until 2003 he was Director of the Medical Research Council Environmental Epidemiology Unit and a Consultant Physician at Southampton University Hospitals. Dr. Barker’s research focuses on how a baby’s nutrition and growth in the womb determines its health in adult life. Studies by his MRC Unit showed that people who had a low birth weight or were stunted at birth are at increased risk of coronary heart disease and related disorders, such as hypertension, diabetes and stroke. This led to the ‘fetal origins hypothesis’ which proposes that coronary heart disease originates through responses to under nutrition during fetal life and infancy, which permanently change the body’s structure, physiology and metabolism. The hypothesis is strongly supported by studies in animals. The discovery that coronary heart disease originates in utero points to the importance of protecting the nutrition and health of women, before and during pregnancy, and protecting young children as part of the strategy to prevent chronic disease in later life.

2009: Gail G. Harrison, PhD, MNS
Dr. Harrison is Professor, University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), School of Public Health. She is also Director, UCLA Center for Global and Immigrant Health, and Senior Research Scientist, UCLA Center for Health Policy Research. Dr. Harrison is an internationally known scholar whose research, much of it in developing countries in Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America, and in vulnerable populations in the United States, has led to several important advances in maternal-fetal health. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, her work proved that maternal obesity affects fetal growth. In 1983, Dr. Harrison was the lead investigator of a study in Egypt that demonstrated how healthy a pregnant woman eats influences the development and health of her baby and the nutrient composition of her breast milk. More recently, as a member of an Institute of Medicine (IOM) committee, Dr. Harrison conducted research that showed low-income pregnant women are more likely to eat fresh fruits and vegetables if they receive specific food subsidies. That led to the committee’s recommendation that fresh fruit and vegetable vouchers be distributed as part of the U.S. government’s Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program, which provides federal grants to states for food, health care referrals, and nutrition education. In addition to her work with the IOM, Dr. Harrison has served as the president of the Society for International Nutrition Research and has consulted with the World Health Organization.

2008: Susan E. Carlson, PhD
Dr. Carlson is the A. J. Rice Professor of Nutrition and Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Kansas Medical Center. She is also Clinical Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Dr. Carlson has devoted her career to understanding and promoting maternal and infant nutrition. She is internationally recognized for her work in maternal-fetal nutrition and specifically for her research on DHA, an omega-3 fatty acid. Dr. Carlson was the first to recognize and note the implications that human milk-fed infants had higher amounts of circulating DHA than formula-fed infants. In 2002, she was awarded honorary membership in the American Dietetic Association for her pioneering work leading to the recognition that DHA was a conditionally essential nutrient for infants. Since 2002, Dr. Carlson has taken an active role in the education of U.S. pediatricians, obstetricians, nurses and dietitians about the role of DHA in maternal and infant health. She has been involved nationally and internationally in evaluating the quality of evidence and establishing best-practice guidelines for intake of DHA by infants and pregnant women.

2007: Anna Maria Siega-Riz, PhD, RD
Dr. Siega-Riz is Associate Professor of Epidemiology at the University of North Carolina, School of Public Health. She has a joint appointment in the Department of Nutrition and is a fellow of the Carolina Population Center. She serves as the Director of the Nutrition Epidemiology Division and the Nutrition Epidemiology Core of the Clinical Nutrition Research Center. Dr. Siega-Riz's research interests include maternal nutritional status and its relationship to birth outcomes, gestational weight gain and obesity development, eating methodology, reproductive epidemiology, child and adolescent eating behaviors, and trends in eating among minority populations. She is a co-investigator on the Pregnancy, Infection, and Nutrition (PIN) Study, a large prospective epidemiological study examining the role of infection, stress, physical activity, and nutrition on preterm births among women receiving prenatal care from public institutions. Dr. Siega-Riz is recognized as an outstanding researcher, teacher and mentor in maternal-fetal nutrition. She is known for her passion about the health of mothers and children.

2006: William W. Hay, Jr., MD
Dr. Hay is Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and Vice-President/President-Elect of the American Pediatric Society. He is widely recognized as one of the country's most distinguished academic pediatricians and a strong mentor of young scientists. Dr. Hay's career in nutrition research has spanned 34 years. His scientific interests include fetal and neonatal nutrition, intrauterine fetal growth, and fetal growth restriction, all of which have relevance to the fetal origins of adult diseases. Dr. Hay is recognized internationally for his contributions to the understanding of fetal glucose and amino acid deprivation. He is the author of numerous landmark books and papers that are required reading for many pediatricians in training across the United States.

2005: Barbara Luke, ScD, MPH, RD
Dr. Luke is Professor in the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, with joint appointments in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology and the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Miami School of Medicine. Dr. Luke is internationally known for her work on improving outcomes in multiple pregnancies through enhanced prenatal care and patient education, including targeted weight gain recommendations and healthy eating therapy. She is the founder of the University Consortium on Multiple Births, a collaborative group of researchers around the country who pool their maternal and neonatal data to evaluate factors affecting outcomes. She has written or edited 16 books. The latest When You're Expecting Twins, Triplets, Quads, co-authored with Tamara Eberlein and published by HarperCollins, won the Outstanding Book of the Year award in 2000 from the American Society for Journalists and Authors. It is among the top 10 best-selling pregnancy books in the U.S. Dr. Luke's goal is to help every child reach his or her full growth potential at birth through optimal maternal nutrition.

2004: Barbara Abrams, DrPH, RD
Dr. Abrams is Professor of Epidemiology, Public Health Nutrition and Maternal and Child Health at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Public Health where she also currently serves as Associate Dean of Student Affairs. After more than a decade of experience providing nutrition counseling and education directly to expectant mothers in prenatal clinical care settings, she turned her attention to conducting research studies to better understand how maternal weight and weight gain before, during and after pregnancy contribute to health outcomes in newborn infants and their mothers. She is most proud of her work educating future leaders in the field of maternal nutrition and public health.

2003: Lois Jovanovic, MD
Dr. Jovanovic is Director and Chief Scientific Officer at Sansum Medical Research Institute in Santa Barbara, CA and Clinical Professor of Medicine, University of Southern California, Los Angeles. Dr. Jovanovic is an internationally recognized expert in the nutritional management of gestational diabetes. She has made significant contributions in medical nutrition therapy of gestational diabetes, specifically in high-risk Hispanic-American women. Her goals are to provide pregnant women and clinicians with tools and methods for successful management of gestational diabetes and to reduce the numbers of macrosomic and malformed newborns born to diabetic women.

2002: Theresa O. Scholl, PhD, MPH
Dr. Scholl is Professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey School of Medicine. For almost 20 years, Dr. Scholl has studied the relationship between nutrition and health outcomes in adolescent pregnancy. Specifically, her research has focused on effects of continued adolescent maternal growth during pregnancy; the impairment of maternal growth on nutrient transfer between mother and fetus, resulting in increased risk of low birthweight babies; improved pregnancy outcomes following material intake of zinc, folate and multivitamins; the association of pre-pregnancy weight, prenatal weight gain and anemia with growth and preterm deliveries; and the possible adverse effects of oxidative damage to fetal DNA through dietary exposure.

Other recipients
Lynn B. Bailey, PhD
Kathryn G. Dewey, PhD
Mary Frances Picciano, PhD
David M. Paige, MD, MPH
Godfrey P. Oakley, Jr., MD, MPH, and Paul B. Pencharz, MB, ChB, PhD, FRCP(C)
Paul B. Pencharz, MD, ChB, PhD, FRCP(C)
Frederick C. Battaglia, MD
M. Elizabeth Brannon, MS, RD
Judith E. Brown, PhD, MPH, RD
Mary Egan, MS, MPH
Norbert Freinkel, MD
Howard N. Jacobson, MD
Janet C. King, PhD, RD
William McGanity, MD
Charlotte G. Neumann, MD, MPH
Roy M. Pitkin, MD
Pedro Rosso, MD
Reginald C. Tsang, MD
Myron Winick, MD
Bonnie Worthington-Roberts, PhD


Prenatal statistics

Get maternal and infant health data for the United States, individual states, counties and cities.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the qualifications required to apply for a Prematurity Research Initiative Grant?

An applicant for a Prematurity Research Initiative Grant must hold a faculty appointment or the equivalent at a not-for-profit institution, such as a university, hospital or research institution.

What is the deadline to apply for a Basil O’Connor Starter Scholar Research Award?

Letters of Nomination for the Basil O'Connor Research Program are due annually on March 15 for possible funding to begin on the following February 1.

What is the term of a MOD Research Grant?

MOD Research Grants are usually awarded for three years.

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