PHILADELPHIA, NOVEMBER 9, 2009 – A nutritionist whose research was instrumental in adding fruits and vegetables to the federal Women, Infants and Children (WIC) food subsidy will receive the March of Dimes Agnes Higgins Award for outstanding achievement in the field of maternal-fetal nutrition.
Gail Harrison, Ph.D., MNS, a professor in the Department of Community Health Sciences at the University of California, Los Angeles School of Public Health, will receive the award today at the annual meeting of the American Public Health Association (APHA) being held here.
Dr. Harrison is an internationally known scholar whose research – much of it among vulnerable populations in the U.S. and in developing countries in Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America – has led to several important advances in maternal-fetal health. In the late 1970s and early 80s, her work proved that maternal obesity affects fetal growth. In 1983, Dr. Harrison was the lead investigator of a study in Egypt that demonstrated how the quality of a pregnant woman’s diet influences the development and health of her baby and the nutrient composition of her breast milk.
More recently, as a member of an Institute of Medicine committee, Dr. Harrison conducted research that showed low-income pregnant women are more likely to eat fresh fruits and vegetables if they receive specific food subsidies. That led to the committee’s recommendation that fresh fruit and vegetable vouchers be distributed as part of the U.S. government’s WIC program, which provides federal grants to states for food, health care referrals, and nutrition education. In 2008, WIC had more than 8,000,000 participants.
Dr. Harrison earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of California-Santa Barbara, her master’s from Cornell University, and her doctoral degree from the University of Arizona. She also served as the president of the Society for International Nutrition Research and has consulted with the World Health Organization.
Agnes Higgins was the longtime director of Canada’s Montreal Diet Dispensary, a precursor of government nutrition programs for pregnant women in the United States. A pioneer in devising methods of nutritional assessment and counseling, she 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.
The March of Dimes is the leading nonprofit organization for pregnancy and baby health. With chapters nationwide, the March of Dimes works to improve the health of babies by preventing birth defects, premature birth and infant mortality. For the latest resources and information, visit marchofdimes.com or nacersano.org.