Jenna Evanchuk

Supervisor: Catherine Field

Project: The contributions of milk and dairy intake on maternal, infant and child health


Edmonton, AB

Degree program:

Bachelor of Science General

Why did you choose this program?

I am endlessly curious and passionate about biological science, especially in relation to human health. I was about to specialize in immunology and infection before I discovered an interest and love for nutritional science in my first year and decided to choose this discipline as a minor. I can truly say that I have never looked back on this decision because it has led me to working (and hopefully pursuing graduate studies) in Dr. Field's interdisciplinary nutritional immunology lab. By studying both fields of science I have gained a unique and deep understanding regarding human health from multiple perspectives.

What was it like to continue your research project when much of the country was in a lockdown or faced major restrictions?

Since the beginning of my summer studentship, I have felt very grateful and fortunate to have gotten to work when so many others across the country and around the world were not. Since coming back to the lab there have been mandatory precautionary safety and hygiene regulations and I have felt very safe in our laboratory environment.

What's been the best part of your experience so far?

I was grateful to have had the opportunity to work as a summer student in Dr. Field's lab last year and getting to continue a similar project this summer has been incredible because I have become so invested and passionate about this field of work. As I've come to learn both through this project and in my studies, research that focuses on the health and wellbeing of a mother before and during her pregnancy is critical in determining not only her postpartum health, but also the health trajectory of her infant's life. Beyond my project, I really enjoy working with the students, technicians and staff in our lab. I am also very grateful to have Dr. Field as my PI—she is such an amazing mentor who always guides and supports me.

How has your studentship helped you towards your career aspirations?

I am very excited to share that throughout my last two summer studentships, both supported by WCHRI through the Stollery Children's Hospital Foundation and the the Alberta Women's Health Foundation, I have discovered my true passion and fascination with maternal and early life nutritional and health research. The latter has played an important role in my decision to apply for graduate school in Dr. Field's lab and I will hopefully be starting a research-based (thesis) Master's in Nutrition and Metabolism in January 2021. My proposed project focuses on the relationship of nutrition during pregnancy and key maternal, infant and child health outcomes, which is a continuation of the work I have been conducting during the last two summers.

What has the support from WCHRI, the Stollery Children's Hospital Foundation and the Alberta Women's Health Foundation meant to you?

I want to thank WCHRI, the Stollery Children's Hospital Foundation and the the Alberta Women's Health Foundation for giving me this opportunity to continue exploring passion for maternal, infant and child health research. Your support has enabled me to discover my love for this field of research and to pursue this work in graduate studies! Thank you for continuing to support us through these unprecedented times, I appreciate all your generosity immensely.

Lay abstract:

Until recently, increasing dairy, particularly milk, has been a prominent dietary recommendation for most pregnant and lactating women in Canada. Preliminary data from the Alberta Pregnancy Outcomes and Nutrition (APrON) study has found that milk is one of the foods that women reported increasing when they became pregnant. Milk and dairy foods are a major source of key nutrients including protein, calcium and various vitamins such as Vitamin A and the B Vitamins, which are essential for proper fetal development and continued health across the lifespan. However, recommendations for milk and dairy products are largely absent from the new Canadian Food Guide. It is therefore critical to determine the contribution of milk and total dairy intake by women during pregnancy and lactation on maternal, infant and child health to evaluate its nutritional importance during these periods.

APrON is a prospective cohort study which followed the nutritional, physical and developmental status of approximately 2,200 pregnant women and their infants from Alberta. Dr. Field's lab is responsible for conducting analyses to examine how milk and dairy intake throughout pregnancy impacts maternal, infant and child health. The objective is to explore the relationship between fluid milk and total dairy intake and maternal health, infant growth and child growth including brain development, with an emphasis on the cognitive and behavioural development of children aged 2-5 years old. The findings will be important to the dairy industry, health professionals and expecting parents to ensure that dairy continues to be recommended as part of a healthy diet during pregnancy and lactation. Health Canada may consider these findings in making specific recommendations for foods that should be consumed during pregnancy and lactation.