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Kasia Nastalska works as a research assistant on APrON.
the Gauntlet

Study looks at nutrition and child development

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You are what you eat, or potentilly what your mother ate, says a new study.

The Alberta Pregnancy Outcomes and Nutrition study is being conducted at the behavioural research facility at the Alberta Children's Hospital. The study follows mothers throughout their pregnancies and investigates possible links between nutrition, maternal mental health and infant development.

"There's very little research that has looked directly at the impact of maternal nutrition during pregnancy and maternal mental health," said a research director Deborah Dewey. "Also, there is little research that is specifically focused on how what the mother eats during pregnancy impacts the child's neuro-development, especially in the developing world."

APrON monitors the mother's diet, activity and mental and physical health during pregnancy, breast feeding and after weaning. The team also analyzes the mother's medical history, blood and urine samples, breast milk and the child's neuro-cognitive assessment at age three.

There are currently over 1,400 mothers participating in Calgary and Edmonton, with 610 babies born so far.

"It's no harm to me and if it can help others, why not?" asked Mary Ann Penney, a participant in the study since her first trimester.

APrON received $5 million from the Alberta government to study the children until the age of three.

Researchers foresee the results of APrON having far reaching effects.

"It's not only going to impact government and public policy, but it's also going effect nutritional research and recommendations," said APrON research assistant supervisor Dayna-Lynn Dymianiw.

APrON is a large study with opportunities for students to get involved. Students from both the Universities of Calgary and Alberta are currently analyzing some of the data through undergraduate research programs

"Because of the massive amounts of data we are collecting, there are so many different angles you can take," said Dymianiw. "We have a wealth of information we're establishing which could be unique for students looking for research projects."

"They're looking at social science stuff and biological stuff," said Emily Macphail, a second -year Health Science student who has worked with APrON since May 2010. "There's going to be so much data to use, no matter what area you're interested in."

APrON has grown since it started recruiting in 2009 and two satellite locations recently opened to accommodate more participants. Researchers are hoping to receive additional funding which would allow them to follow participants longer and gain additional data during other important developmental stages.

"We would be able to see if maternal nutrition is associated with the development of various neuro-developmental disorders that tend to be diagnosed at school age, such as ADHD and learning disabilities, as well as how it may relate to the development of mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety which have a higher prevalence as children move into adolescence," said Dewey. "The importance of longitudinal research like this is that you can start looking at what are the early factors that may be impacting our risk for developing conditions or chronic illness as we get older."

Penney had no reservations about her 12-week-old son continuing to participate in APrON if the program were to be extended.

"They have been very accommodating," said Penney. "It takes very little time out of my life and will benefit others."

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