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Investigating childhood obesity

May 2nd, 2016

Childhood obesity has been on an upward trend for a number of years and it is a major factor that can drive the development of Type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Researchers at the Children’s Hospital Research Institute of Manitoba are hoping to unlock the cause of childhood obesity.

Dr. Vern Dolinsky and a team of researchers recently received a $2-million grant from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research to study obesity in children.

Dr. Dolinsky, who is also an Associate Professor in the Department of Pharmacology and Therapeutics at the University of Manitoba, will lead an international team of researchers with a range of expertise to “Investigate the developmental origins of childhood obesity.”

Obesity is the fastest growing chronic illness in Canada, especially among children. Dr. Dolinsky said this research will look at the underlying factors that can lead to childhood obesity that go beyond a person’s lifestyle such as diet and exercise to examine the developmental origins of disease which can be defined as the influence of environmental conditions on mothers while pregnant and its affect on the development of obesity in their children. Pre-pregnancy obesity is a factor that increases the likelihood that a woman will develop diabetes during pregnancy and the exposure to diabetes during pregnancy influences the risk for obesity development in children. The project will study populations of children and their mothers to determine how the maternal environment influences the development of obesity in their children in order to identify new biomarkers of obesity risk that could be used to prevent the extensive health and financial burden of obesity in children and future generations.IMG_6480

“While there are lifestyle changes that can be made to manage body weight in children, the reality is that there are many factors, both environmental and genetic, many of which we have little to no control over, that determine who becomes overweight or obese,” Dolinsky said. “Environmental conditions during pregnancy appear to increase the vulnerability of the children for the development of a range of chronic diseases. It appears the exposure of infants to diabetes

“We are hoping to accomplish two major things: 1) Identify early life “biomarkers” that are easily measurable factors in the bloodstream that are indicators or causes of obesity as well as other diseases associated with obesity like type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. This would allow the early and accurate identification and treatment of children most at risk for these diseases; 2) Determine whether early life interventions such as maternal exercise during pregnancy or breastfeeding of infants modifies these biomarkers and prevents the development of childhood obesity, Type 2 diabetes or cardiovascular disease.”

The researchers will work with research participants from current research projects already being run at CHRIM, including iCARE (Improving renal Complications in Adolescents with Type 2 diabetes through REsearch (iCARE) cohort study).

iCARE involves participants taking part in a full day of testing once a year that includes blood and urine tests, a formal test of their kidney function, a 24-hour blood pressure monitor and an ultrasound of their kidneys. A questionnaire is completed that helps researchers determine their stress levels and they also supply a hair sample so that the stress hormone cortisol can be measured directly by a lab in London, Ontario.

Laura Woods, who is part of the iCARE Participant Advisory Group, said her daughter, Kara, was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes at the age of 12 and the research being done at CHRIM will make a difference.

“They asked me if I wanted to join and I wanted to know more about diabetes in children and how to help,” said Woods, whose daughter is now 18.

“There’s lots of information to share. Everyday life with diabetes is a struggle, especially when you live up North. Research is very important and has been beneficial for my family and many other people too.”

Over 1,000 individuals from across Canada will be involved in the obesity study and this work has the potential to have a profound impact on preventing obesity, Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

“This research is important because we have very little knowledge about how obesity develops in children and why some children are more susceptible than others. Our research will determine the mechanisms that put children at greater risk for obesity as well as identify new biomarkers that will allow us to identify children that are most susceptible for the development of obesity as well as Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease,” Dolinsky said.

“Using the new early life biomarkers that our team of researchers identify, we will be able to direct healthcare resources to provide better care to children at highest risk for disease development in order to prevent obesity as well as diabetes and cardiovascular disease that is putting a major strain on our healthcare system. We hope this will improve the long-term health of these children and increase both the quality of their lives through reducing the immense emotional burden this places on these children and their families.”