Dec 20, 2023

New U of T fellowships to address learning gaps in child nutrition

Education, Giving, Policy & Data, Research, Resources
Composite of five new Lawson fellows
Clockwise from top left: Meta van den Heuvel, Matt Orava, Leanne DeSouza-Kenney, Jessie Hulst, Vivian Choo
By Deanna Cheng

The Joannah & Brian Lawson Centre for Child Nutrition at the University of Toronto has created five fellowships to tackle nutrition education and child health in Canada and globally, with a broad focus on practitioner knowledge, health systems and public health.

The new fellows will develop educational tools and resources for physicians, other health practitioners, and community members including teachers and policy experts, to address food insecurity, obesity, malnutrition and other challenges in child nutrition and health.

“These fellowships take a multi-pronged approach to child nutrition, with an emphasis on health practitioner education but also community engagement to drive health equity,” said Dan Sellen, director of the Lawson Centre for Child Nutrition, which is part of U of T’s Temerty Faculty of Medicine.

“Child nutrition is a multi-factorial problem, where one social or health disparity or inequity can tip a child into more and more disadvantages, so we really need a whole-systems approach to be effective,” Sellen said.

The fellowships run for up to two years and are funded through a donation from Joannah and Brian Lawson. They are supported by the Raymond Chang Chair in Nutritional Medical Education, which is based at the Lawson Centre for Child Nutrition and held by Chris Tomlinson, a professor of paediatrics at Temerty Medicine and medical director of the neonatal intensive care unit at The Hospital for Sick Children.

The fellowships build on Tomlinson’s work as academic lead for medical education at the Lawson Centre for Child Nutrition, and on the centre’s work to bring nutrition into the MD Program at U of T through curriculum changes. They will complement the centre’s annual Food as Medicine Update, which provides practitioners with knowledge on emerging research trends and the role of nutrition in patient care.

“Fellows are established, mid-career physicians and scientists, and are on the front lines of the systems that affect child nutrition and health,” said Tomlinson. “They have the potential to create long-term systems impact, but also to train future generations of researchers and educators.”

The five new fellows and fellowships are:

  • Meta van den Heuvel, Lawson Distinguished Fellow in Child Growth, Development and Health Equity
  • Leanne DeSouza-Kenney, Alexander Lawson Distinguished Fellow in Child Nutrition and Health Promotion
  • Vivian Choo, Tristan Lawson Distinguished Fellow in Physician Professional Development in Child Nutrition
  • Jessie Hulst, Alexander Lawson Distinguished Fellow in Child Nutrition and Physician Engagement
  • Matt Orava, Tristan Lawson Distinguished Fellow in Child Nutrition and Community Engagement

Each fellow will focus on specific approaches and interventions that influence child nutrition; van den Heuvel, an associate professor of paediatrics at Temerty Medicine and staff paediatrician at SickKids, will work with nutrition and medical experts to develop guidelines for improved food security in family and community medicine. She will also create assessment tools for child growth and health equity.

DeSouza-Kenney, an assistant professor in the human biology program and health studies program at U of T, will focus on promotion of healthier food environments and nutrition curriculum in schools, especially for adolescents in low socio-economic backgrounds.

Choo, a family physician at Women’s College Hospital, will expand nutrition education for health-care professionals and trainees with an emphasis on accredited child nutrition education materials for family physicians.

Hulst, an associate professor of paediatrics at U of T and staff paediatrican at SickKids, will help increase physician competency in clinical and public health nutrition.

Orava, a lecturer in family and community medicine at U of T and staff family physician at Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre, will lead a scoping review of current systems and government responses to inequities. This work will focus on quality of diet and access to nutritious foods in diverse groups of children.

"Many indicators and trends in child nutrition are moving in the wrong direction, and they are now playing out against a background of rising basic living costs and a housing crisis,” Sellen said. “These Fellows will collectively strengthen clinical nutrition services in our current context of ongoing income and gender-based disparities, with clear prioritization of the needs of vulnerable kids and the experiences of historically racialized, marginalized and under-served communities.”