Clinical Nutrition Lab


Clinical Nutrition Lab

Daughter Listening To Pregnant Mother's Stomach

The Clinical Nutrition Laboratory is dedicated to examining the effects of prenatal and postnatal nutrition on anthropometrics, body composition, metabolism and physical activity of infants and children. Maternal health, body composition and nutrition are all important factors that can influence fetal and neonatal development during a very critical period, the first 1000 days of life, which includes prenatal and postnatal periods, yet our understanding on how these factors shape the child’s future health and metabolism is not yet understood. Another major focus of our team is on how early infant nutrition influences growth and body composition which may have short and long term consequences to child’s health. We focus on the components of human milk and the characteristics of infant formulas that support optimal growth, health and development. To tackle these complex questions we partner with research groups at ACNC and other institutions using multi-disciplinary approaches.

Group Members

Aline Andres, Ph.D.
Clark Sims, Ph.D.
Kindann Fawcett, Ph.D.
Donald Turner, B.S.

Recent Projects

Maternal programming of growth and body composition

A major focus of our research is to investigate the effects of maternal health, body composition and nutrition pre-conception and during pregnancy on the child’s growth, body composition and metabolism. A collaborator’s team has demonstrated that offspring of obese rats are more susceptible to obesity when challenged with a high fat diet. Our focus in the Clinical Nutrition Laboratory is to examine if these findings translate to women and children. The Glowing study was designed to tackle this question by enrolling 300 pregnant women before gestation week 10, following them carefully during pregnancy every 6 weeks until delivery and investigating their children’s health, body composition, physical activity and metabolism during the first two years of life. Our goal is to identify the role of maternal adiposity at conception on the offspring’s risk of obesity later in life.

Maternal exercise during pregnancy

Exercise has been shown to reduce inflammation, increase insulin sensitivity and improve metabolic health overall. In that context, we are testing whether exercise during pregnancy can benefit both the pregnant women and their children in the long term. To do that, we have designed a randomized clinical trial for obese pregnant women. If randomized to the intervention, they exercise with a trainer three times per week at the ACNC gym. Our goal is to follow the children up to age 2 years and then recall them at age 5 and 8 years to see how exercise during pregnancy affected them long term.

Pre-conception interventions

Recent research has shown that differences may be present even prior to conception in oocytes from women with normal weight vs. women with obesity leading to changes in offspring metabolism later in life. To tackle this question, we are conducting a study in partnership with Arkansas Fertility and Gynecology clinic to investigate the role of maternal nutrition and physical activity on oocyte gene expression and follicular fluid content prior to pregnancy.

Neonatal Programming of growth and body composition

Mother with baby

Infant nutrition, growth and body composition during the first two years of life also has short and long term consequences to the child’s growth and development. Patterns of nutrition and body composition during infancy are analyzed to understand their effect on later health outcomes. In fact, early infant diet can significantly impact growth and development during infancy. Most infants in the United States are fed human milk or various types of infant formulas. These diets differ significantly in their nutritional composition. Understanding the similarities and differences between infants fed these three diets is part of a comprehensive, longitudinal, prospective study called the Beginnings Study, which is characterizing the growth and development of infants and children from age 2 months to age 6 years. A follow up of these children during adolescence is ongoing at age 14 years.

Human milk composition and its impact on child’s growth

Human milk is very complex and varies during lactation and is also sensitive to maternal metabolic and overall health. In a series of studies, we are investigating how human milk composition may vary depending on maternal weight, physical activity, insulin sensitivity, and systemic inflammation. We are also testing whether we can modulate human milk composition using nutritional intervention during lactation. Optimizing human milk composition for the future of the child is one way we hope to improve overall health long term.

Methodology Development for Body Composition, Metabolism and Physical Activity

It is important to keep up with the development of new technologies to acquire accurate and precise data during infancy and childhood. The ACNC commissioned the manufacturing of the first quantitative nuclear magnetic resonance instrument (EchoMRI-AH-small) designed specifically for infants and children (0-50 kg). This instrument has been validated in house and for the first time provides a means to longitudinally and repeatedly study the body composition of children from birth through late childhood. We are also actively investigating ways to better estimate energy expenditure in infants and children using indirect calorimetry and physical activity monitoring. Keeping up with the advancement of technologies will guarantee that we use the best available methodologies for all clinical research studies conducted at the ACNC.