Skip to main navigationSkip to main content
The University of Southampton

Southampton researcher honoured for pioneering research in maternal-foetal nutrition

Published: 12 March 2020
Professors Fall and Yajnik
Professors Fall and Yajnik lead research on the role of maternal nutrition on a child's health.

The US-based March of Dimes has presented its 2019 Agnes Higgins Award to University of Southampton Professor Caroline Fall, and long-standing collaborator Professor Chittaranjan S Yajnik, Director of the Diabetes Unit, King Edward Memorial Hospital, Pune, India.

Professor Fall and Professor Yajnik have been recognised for their groundbreaking research on the role of maternal nutrition on a child’s short- and long-term health.

This award is part of March of Dimes’ efforts to spearhead and promote achievements in actionable science that turn observations from the laboratory into interventions that can improve the health of mothers and babies. For nearly 20 years, the Agnes Higgins Award has recognised the distinguished achievements of leaders in the field of maternal-foetal nutrition focused on research, education or clinical services. As foundational members of the Developmental Origins of Health and Diseases (DOHaD) field, Professors Fall and Yajnik join an impressive roster of more than 30 previous Agnes Higgins Award recipients.

Together, Professors Fall and Yajnik have worked closely as research partners for 30 years. Through the Agnes Higgins Award, they have been particularly recognised for their independent and collaborative contribution to our understanding of how a mother’s diet affects foetal development, which can impact a child’s health at birth and also increase the child’s risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease in the future.

Professors Fall and Yajnik’s research in India has changed the way we think about maternal nutrition and metabolism at critical periods of foetal development. They showed that in utero exposure to maternal malnutrition and maternal diabetes predispose the infant to altered foetal growth and infant weight gain, rapid weight gain in childhood and adolescence, and leads to long-term metabolic impact, including a higher risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease in their adult life.  Their research led to the discovery of the 'thin-fat' characteristic of Indian newborns (high body fat-low BMI) which increases the population’s risk of type 2 diabetes in adult life. An imbalance in maternal micronutrients (low vitamin B12 but adequate folate) affects foetal metabolism that leads to this ‘thin-fat’ effect. This work has been influential in shaping nutritional guidelines for children, adolescents and pregnant women internationally and growing recognition that investments in youth health can lead to long-term multi-generational benefits. Professors Fall and Yajnik have also pioneered the evaluation of pre-conceptional maternal nutritional interventions for long-term benefit in the child.

“Myself and Professor Yajnik have worked together as research partners for 30 years, so we have really achieved all this together. It has had an impact on policies to support maternal health and nutrition around the world” enthused Professor Fall who is Professor of International Pediatric Epidemiology in the University’s MRC Lifecourse Epidemiology Unit. She is also an Honorary Consultant in Child Health for the University Southampton Hospitals NHS Trust and member of the Paediatric Diabetes Team.

“Professor Yajnik has been an integral investigator on most of my research grants in that time, a frequent visitor to Southampton, and has hosted Southampton students and fellows in his department,” Professor Fall continued.

“We are delighted to honour Professors Fall and Yajnik with the 2019 Agnes Higgins Award,” said Dr Kelle Moley, Senior Vice President and Chief Scientific Officer at March of Dimes. “Their important research laid the groundwork to better understand the importance of the prenatal and perinatal environment in the development of health and disease.” 

Established in 1980, the Agnes Higgins Award honours the late Agnes Higgins of the Montreal Diet Dispensary for her innovation and years of service to improve maternal nutrition. A pioneer in devising methods of nutritional assessment and counselling, Mrs Higgins greatly advanced our understanding of diet as a crucial factor in healthy pregnancy and the prevention of low birthweight babies.

March of Dimes leads the fight for the health of all moms and babies, supporting research, leading programs and providing education and advocacy so that every baby can have the best possible start, built on a successful 80-year legacy of impact and innovation.


Related Staff Member

Privacy Settings