CHICAGO, Nov. 2, 2015 – The March of Dimes honored a researcher and educator who developed educational programs that successfully prevented excess weight gain during pregnancy among low-income women – reducing the risk their babies would be overweight by the time they are toddlers.
Dr. Jennifer L. Howse, president of the March of Dimes, presented the 2015 March of Dimes Agnes Higgins award to Christine Olson, PhD, RD, during the 143nd annual meeting of the American Public Health Association held here.
"By focusing on proper nutrition in pregnancy, Dr. Olson's priorities mirror those of Agnes Higgins, who was a pioneer in this field," Dr. Howse said. "Dr. Olson's work on weight gain during pregnancy has provided critical information and led to new programs that have improved the health of moms and babies. We know that gaining too much or too little weight during pregnancy can be harmful to the baby and lead to preterm birth and other long-term health problems."
Dr. Olson is a professor in the Division of Nutritional Studies at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. She is co-chair of the Clinical Applications Guide Subcommittee on Nutritional Status during Pregnancy and Lactation for the Institute of Medicine. She received the Award for Excellence in Dietary Science from the American Public Health Association. Her work also has been honored by Cornell Cooperative Extension, the United States Department of Agriculture, and the Society for Nutrition Education. She has spent almost her entire career at Cornell University after receiving her doctorate degree from the University of Wisconsin in 1974.
Dr. Olson's research found that excess weight gain during pregnancy was a risk factor for retaining the weight a year after the baby is born – and that low-income women were at higher risk when compared to other women. Her work also showed that weight gain during pregnancy affected the risk of obesity for the babies at age three.
Her program to provide women with information about nutrition and the risks of excessive weight gain during pregnancy demonstrated that this approach could successfully lower weight gain. Dr. Olson led the team that developed e-Moms Roc, an interactive online education and weight intervention program as a way to share the information.
The March of Dimes established the Agnes Higgins Award in 1980 to recognize her role in improving maternal health during pregnancy, and the health of babies. Agnes Higgins, CM, BSc, PDt., FRSH, LLD, was a nutritionist and executive director of the Montreal Diet Dispensary from 1948 until her retirement in 1981. The March of Dimes first presented the award as part of the celebration of the 100th anniversary of Canada's Montreal Diet Dispensary.
Mrs. Higgins helped pregnant women have healthy babies by focusing on the mother's nutritional needs. Services provided at the Dispensary were the precursor of government nutrition programs for pregnant women in the United States, such as WIC, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children. Since 1980, the Agnes Higgins Award has been presented at the American Public Health Association annual meeting to leaders in the field of maternal-fetal medicine in recognition of their achievement in research, education or clinical services in the field of maternal-fetal nutrition.
The March of Dimes works to improve the health of babies by preventing birth defects, premature birth and infant mortality. The March of Dimes is the leading nonprofit organization for pregnancy and baby health. For the latest resources and information, visit marchofdimes.org or nacersano.org. Find us on Facebook and Twitter.