In Profile: Jill Hamilton

Professor Jill HamiltonProfessor Jill Hamilton “The long-term health implications of raising rates of childhood obesity have been recognized globally,” says Jill Hamilton, a professor in U of T’s Department of Paediatrics and Nutritional Sciences. “More people around the world are engaging in solving this problem.”

With this the increasing interest in child health and nutrition, Hamilton sees a great opportunity for researchers and clinicians to accelerate the development of solutions to child obesity and malnutrition.

Hamilton is also the director of The Hospital for Sick Children’s Centre for Healthy Active Kids, which promotes prevention and treatment of child obesity. The centre’s scientists study the underlying factors that put people at risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease and other complications of excessive weight gain at a young age. They also focus on child well-being — through nutrition, less stress, good sleep, and physical activity.

Hamilton’s research centres on two aspects of child obesity: mechanisms for metabolic risk such as diabetes and factors responsible for weight. She also explores biologic and psycho-social determinants of response to obesity treatment, toward improving available obesity interventions.

“The prevailing recommendations for treating childhood obesity tend to be very general,” says Hamilton. “Doctors and dietitians usually say: eat fewer calories, move more and you will lose weight. In principle this is true, but there are differences in patient-specific response to dietary interventions. How do we best assess and individualize treatment plans for a particular person? This is what we need to figure out.”

Interactions with families in her practice drive Hamilton’s research. “I am a clinical investigator and clinician at heart. The ability to take on these challenging problems in health and try to make a difference in the lives of my patients is really important to me,” she says.

Hamilton also hopes to see childhood nutrition featured more prominently across the spectrum of health care education curricula — another priority for the Lawson Centre. “We have to do a better job of teaching our future and current health care professionals how to talk about weight and nutrition with children and their families in a way that is empathetic and helpful, so this topic is integrated in a holistic way across the health care system,” she says.