Mary R. L'Abbé

Dr. Mary L'AbbéProfessor,
Nutritional Sciences

Ensuring that public health policy reflects our latest nutrition discoveries is one of the main goals of the Lawson Centre. This is why Mary R. L'Abbé’s expertise is invaluable to the Lawson Centre’s success. In addition to being a distinguished nutrition academic and researcher, she is world-renowned for leading public policy initiatives.

“The goal of our research is to provide clear evidence that informs national and international policies, which in turn create a food environment where the healthy choice is an easy choice,” says L'Abbé.

L'Abbé is the Earle W. McHenry Professor and Chair of the Department of Nutritional Sciences. She leads the Lawson Centre’s knowledge mobilization, regulatory affairs and government relations efforts that will accelerate enhancement of child nutrition policy.

“To stem Canada's epidemic of chronic disease, we must shift our focus from treatment to prevention. Nutrition is a critical tool to prevent, delay, and treat lifelong chronic conditions such as obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease,” says L'Abbé.

In her research, among other areas, L'Abbé focuses on how consumers understand and use nutritional information on food products. Some of the studies she led explored the role of marketing in parents’ decision-making when purchasing foods for children, as well as nutritional quality of kids menus at restaurants.

“New studies will provide us with a better understanding of on-going changes in the global food supply, as well as how consumers interpret and act on nutritional information,” says L'Abbé. While the mandatory Nutrition Facts Table present on all food packaging is an excellent source of information summarized in a standard format, not all consumers know how to interpret it properly to eat the right daily amounts of all recommended nutrients.

“We are testing different ways to present nutritional information that would help people to make healthy choices,” says L'Abbé, who was part of a team that recently developed a sodium calculator for Canadians.

“People know that too much salt is bad for them, but they don’t know just how much they consume each day. This is why tools like Project Big Life’s Sodium Calculator makes it easy for an average person to see how much sodium they are eating relative to the recommended amounts, and where all that sodium is coming from. This information can empower consumers to make necessary diet changes.”

L'Abbé also points out that we need to understand how different groups of consumers make their food choices. The food behavior and decision-making of average adults may be different from that of adolescents or parents with young children. Better methodologies for analyzing how much and what different groups of people eat will help to make sound policy recommendations.

L'Abbé has worked on countless international research teams and served on a large number of advisory boards, from the Government of Canada, to the World Health Organization, to the Heart and Stroke Foundation. Her vast experience building partnerships makes her confident that by bringing different scientific and methodological perspectives together, the Centre can significantly improve the food quality and diet of children in Canada and around the world.

“We all have healthy kids in mind as our top priority. Many of the scientists work in isolation or in small groups. A great value of the Lawson Centre is that it can help to facilitate networks that will allow working on the important questions in childhood nutrition more systematically.”

At a glance:

Mary R. L'Abbé, PhD

Research Interests

  • Public health nutrition, nutrition policy, and food and nutrition regulations
  • Nutritional quality of the Canadian food supply
  • Factors influencing consumers’ understanding of nutrition
  • Consumers' food choices, obesity, and chronic disease
  • Minerals and trace elements

In the Media


  • Director, WHO Collaborating Centre on Nutrition Policy for Chronic Disease Prevention


See Mary’s profile on the Department of Nutritional Sciences website for more information.