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March of Dimes honors researcher who linked maternal obesity to a baby's long-term health

WASHINGTON, D.C. OCT. 31, 2011 A highly renowned obstetrician, professor and researcher who showed that babies born to obese and diabetic women have a higher risk of becoming overweight and developing diabetes or other metabolic health problems later in life, received the March of Dimes 2011 Agnes Higgins award for outstanding achievement in the field of maternal-fetal nutrition.

Patrick M. Catalano, MD, FACOG, former chairman of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, MetroHealth Medical Center and professor at Case Western Reserve University, received the award from Janis Biermann, MS, senior vice president for Education and Health Promotion at the March of Dimes, at the annual meeting of the American Public Health Association at the Washington Convention Center, in Washington, D.C. today.

"Obesity is a leading health problem in America today and the health consequences are critical for pregnant women and their children," said Ms. Biermann. "The March of Dimes is honored to recognize Dr. Catalano's work, which shows that when a mother starts pregnancy at healthy weight and maintains it throughout pregnancy, her baby has a better chance at a healthy start in life."

Dr. Catalano's work continues to build on the legacy of Agnes Higgins, the longtime director of Canada's Montreal Diet Dispensary, a precursor of government nutrition programs for pregnant women in the United States, according to the March of Dimes. A pioneer in devising methods of nutritional assessment and counseling, Ms. Higgins greatly advanced the understanding of diet as a crucial factor in healthy pregnancy and prevention of low birth weight. The award was created by the March of Dimes in her honor in 1980.

"Weight control is very important early in pregnancy," said Dr. Catalano. It may have potential long-term benefits for the baby, such as protecting the child from chronic diseases, such as obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol and other metabolic diseases.

Dr. Catalano's research has focused on nutrition and metabolic conditions before and during pregnancy and how those conditions affect a fetus' growth and how much body fat it gains. His research has shown that such infants born to obese mothers and mothers who have diabetes are heavier at birth and have a higher risk of developing metabolic disorders, including insulin resistance, a precursor to diabetes.

Dr. Catalano and his team discovered that the adiposity, or body fat content, of a baby is a strong indicator of poor or malnutrition during pregnancy. They also showed that babies of obese mothers are more likely to have fetal macrosomia, also known as "big baby syndrome," a common problem among babies of pregnant diabetic women. The infants are large for their gestational age because they receive too much sugar during pregnancy from the high blood sugar levels of their mothers. The baby's pancreas senses the high sugar levels and produces more insulin in an attempt to use up all the extra sugar. That extra sugar is converted to fat, making a large baby. Dr. Catalano's team also showed that the increase in fetal size associated with maternal obesity is fat, not lean tissue.

At present, Dr. Catalano's research is focused on the effects of omega-3 fish oil supplementation on maternal-fetal inflammation and potential to affect fetal obesity.

Dr. Catalano is a highly respected administrator, teacher and mentor. In addition to numerous honors over the past 35 years, Dr. Catalano was president of the Perinatal Research Society as well as chair of the American Diabetes Association's Pregnancy and Women's Health Council and is currently co-chair of the National Institute for Child Health and Human Development Scientific Vision Group on Pregnancy. Dr. Catalano's research has been supported by the National Institutes of Health for more than 25 years and he has written or co-authored more than 140 research articles.


Contact: Elizabeth Lynch
March of Dimes Foundation

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