Sep 29, 2023

New faculty bring varied expertise to Lawson Centre for Child Nutrition

Giving, Policy & Data, Research, Resources
Image of three new Lawson Centre faculty
Professors Kozeta Miliku, Katerina Maximova and Vasanti Malik
By Eileen Hoftyzer

Three new faculty members from the University of Toronto have joined the Joannah & Brian Lawson Centre for Child Nutrition this year, bringing expertise in nutrition, chronic disease and child health, and undertaking innovative research.

Kozeta Miliku, assistant professor in the Temerty Faculty of Medicine’s department of nutritional sciences since May 2022, joined the Lawson Centre for Child Nutrition in February 2023. She is a physician and researcher focused on the origins of health and disease and is building a research program to better understand the impact of nutrition on chronic disease development.

In previous work, Miliku examined how mothers’ health and diet during pregnancy, and infant feeding, affect the risk of chronic disease in children. Her team is now leading research on how children’s dietary patterns affect their health, and how fathers’ health and eating behaviours affect their children.

One of Miliku’s current projects looks at whether children maintain the same dietary patterns they establish in their early years throughout later childhood and how that leads to the chronic disease development.

“Dietary behaviours get established early in life, so by understanding the overall diet of children, there may be possible interventions to encourage healthier diets, perhaps through informing government policies or school feeding programs,” says Miliku.

In another project, Miliku’s team is examining the factors that influence the amount of ultra-processed food — ready-to-eat, shelf-stable, nutritionally unbalanced products — that young children eat and the impact of these items on health outcomes.

“Canada ranks among the top countries in the world in sales of processed foods, so we have very high rates of consumption of ultra-processed food,” says Miliku. “Almost half of the total energy intake of a three-year-old child in Canada child comes from ultra-processed foods, but we don’t know a lot about the factors that guide the high consumption of these foods or the health impacts for children consuming them.”

Miliku’s research largely is based on data from the CHILD Cohort Study, which follows more than 3,500 children from families across Canada, and for which Miliku is the clinical science officer.

The study enrolled families between 2008 and 2012 and includes data from parents and children about their health, diet, social and environmental factors, as well as biological samples. By providing information about diet and eating patterns and being followed throughout their lives, these families are helping researchers answer key questions on diet and risk for specific conditions, such as asthma and obesity.

“Without these study participants, it would be impossible to do any research and to provide recommendations that improve children’s health, their diet and nutrition,” says Miliku. “I’m really grateful for the CHILD Cohort Study participants and staff. It is critical to keep this longitudinal study going.”

Tackling major challenges in child nutrition

Two other faculty members with expertise in child health and nutrition — Katerina Maximova and Vasanti Malik — also joined the Lawson Centre for Child Nutrition in 2023.

Maximova, an associate professor at U of T’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health, studies the prevention of chronic disease through healthy lifestyle behaviours. She is also the Chair in Early Life Interventions at the MAP Centre for Urban Health Solutions at Unity Health Toronto and sits on the steering committee for Feeding Kids, Nourishing Minds, a program led by Lawson Centre for Child Nutrition researchers that examines school food programs across Canada.

Malik, an assistant professor in the department of nutritional sciences, is also a researcher with Feeding Kids, Nourishing Minds. As Canada Research Chair in Nutrition and Chronic Disease Prevention, she studies diet and lifestyle risk factors for obesity and heart disease at different ages and for different populations. She recently published a meta-analysis with colleagues at U of T and Harvard University that showed how pervasively sugar-sweetened beverages promote obesity and overweight in children and adults.

Miliku says she looks forward to interacting with Maximova, Malik and other Centre researchers, to leverage shared resources and ultimately influence public policy.

“While we love to do research, we don’t stop at publishing papers,” says Miliku. “The goal of our program is to inform future research and develop interventions, and I think the Lawson Centre will be a great catalyst as we work toward knowledge translation and dissemination.”