March of Dimes presented its 2019 Agnes Higgins Award to Drs. Chittaranjan S. Yajnik and Caroline Fall for their groundbreaking research on the role of maternal nutrition on a child’s short- and long-term health. In particular, their independent and collaborative work contributed to our understanding of how a mom’s diet affects fetal development, which can impact a child’s health at birth and also increase the child’s risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease in the future. For nearly 20 years, the Agnes Higgins Award has recognized the distinguished achievements of leaders in the field of maternal-fetal nutrition focused on research, education or clinical services. This award is part of March of Dimes’ efforts to spearhead and promote achievements in actionable science that turn observations from the laboratory into interventions that can improve the health of moms and babies.
“We are delighted to honor Drs. Yajnik and Fall with the 2019 Agnes Higgins Award,” said Dr. Kelle Moley, Senior Vice President and Chief Scientific Officer at March of Dimes. “Their important research laid the groundwork to better understand the importance of the prenatal and perinatal environment in the development of health and disease.”
March of Dimes honored Drs. Yajnik and Fall during a December 2019 awards presentation in London in front of scientific thought leaders. As foundational members of the Developmental Origins of Health and Diseases (DOHaD) field, they join an impressive roster of more than 30 previous Agnes Higgins Award recipients for the following contributions:
- Dr. Yajnik’s research in India led to the discovery of the 'thin-fat' characteristic (high body fat-low BMI) that increases a populations’ risk of diabetes. Further research showed a fetus acquires this characteristic when growing in a mother’s womb. An imbalance in maternal micronutrients (low vitamin B12 but adequate folate) affects fetal metabolism and contributes to this ‘thin-fat’ effect and maternal diabetes exaggerates it. This work has been influential in shaping nutritional guidelines for children, adolescents and pregnant moms internationally and growing recognition that investments in youth health can lead to long-term multi-generational benefits. Dr. Yajnik serves as the Director of the Diabetes Unit at the King Edward Memorial Hospital Research Centre in Pune, India, and an Adjunct Professor at the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research.
- Dr. Fall’s research has changed the way we think about maternal nutrition and metabolism as critical periods of fetal development that can have short- and long-term impact. She discovered that utero exposure to maternal malnutrition and maternal diabetes predispose the infant to low birthweight, poor infant weight gain and rapid weight gain in childhood and adolescence, and also leads to long-term metabolic impact, including a higher risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease in their adult life. She has pioneered the evaluation of pre-conception maternal nutritional interventions for long-term benefit in the child. Dr. Fall serves as the Professor of International Pediatric Epidemiology in the Department of Medicine at the University of Southampton, where she is also an Honorary Consultant in Child Health and member of the Pediatric Diabetes Team.
Established in 1980, the Agnes Higgins Award honors the late Agnes Higgins of the Montreal Diet Dispensary for her innovation and years of service to improve maternal nutrition. More information about the Agnes Higgins Award can be found here.