Oct. 16, 2013

BMO gift helps research into childhood obesity

Establishes BMO Financial Group Endowed Research Fund in Healthy Living
From left: Saifa Koonar, president and CEO, Alberta Children’s Hospital Foundation; Chris Seasons, chair, Alberta Children’s Hospital Foundation; Robert Hayes, senior vice-president, Alberta and N.W.T. Division, BMO Financial Group; Raylene Reimer, professor, University of Calgary, and first award recipient of the BMO Financial Group Endowed Research Fund in Healthy Living; Petra O’Connell, acting vice-president, Alberta Health Services; and Ed McCauley, vice-president (research), University of Calgary.

Saifa Koonar, Chris Seasons, Robert Hayes, Raylene Reimer, Petra O’Connell, and Ed McCauley.

About a third of kids are considered overweight or obese, according to the World Health Organization. In Alberta, that number is estimated at 218,000 children with a weight problem.

A major gift of $1.5 million announced Oct. 15 from the BMO Financial Group will help new research into childhood obesity at the University of Calgary by establishing the BMO Financial Group Endowed Research Fund in Healthy Living.

Raylene Reimer, a professor in the faculties of kinesiology and medicine and a member of the Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute, along with a research team, are the first recipients of the award.

“It’s imperative that we find new ways to help these children and families in order to prevent future health problems such as heart disease, stroke, cancer and Type 2 diabetes,” says Petra O’Connell, acting vice-president, Obesity, Diabetes and Nutrition, Strategic Clinical Networks,  with Alberta Health Services.

 “We are very pleased to support this vital research,” says Robert Hayes, senior vice-president of BMO Bank of Montreal, Alberta and N.W.T. Division.  “Our hope is that this funding will pay dividends for years to come by helping kids live healthier, happier lives.”

What is prebiotic fibre?

Reimer has investigated obesity for over a decade by studying bacteria in the intestines. She has found that prebiotic fibre can help regulate appetite control and weight in adults, in part by promoting the growth of healthy bacteria in the intestine. Prebiotic fibre is found in foods such as onions, garlic and bananas.

“With this award from BMO, our team will be able to determine if the same can be applied to children and incorporated into the guidelines for pediatric obesity management,” says Reimer.

“If so, this will be a huge breakthrough and offer practical solutions for kids struggling with weight issues here in Canada and around the world.”

Prebiotic fibre as powder in jars and cooked into muffins.

Prebiotic fibre as powder in jars and cooked into muffins.

Gender differences

The team is also interested in learning if boys differ from girls in their response to food.  Frank MacMaster, a member of the research team, will use the new 3T fMRI at the Alberta Children’s Hospital to scan the brains of teenagers who are viewing images of food and food advertising.

“There are studies in adults showing that the brain function and structure changes with obesity. Currently, we suspect the brain’s reward system in children is also affected by obesity, but we don’t know if interventions can change that,”says MacMaster.

Obesity epidemic

“Promotion of healthy active living is foundational to the research, teaching and service provisions of the University of Calgary,” says Ed McCauley, vice-president (research) at the University of Calgary. “Through the BMO Financial Group Endowed Research Fund in Healthy Living, there is an opportunity to unify, strengthen and significantly advance progress toward achieving healthy living and healthy body weights for children."

“We are very grateful to BMO for 24 years of generous support for the Alberta Children’s Hospital during which time they have donated more than $2.5 million to help the kids and families we serve,” says Saifa Koonar, CEO of the Alberta Children’s Hospital Foundation.

Pediatric obesity team of researchers

Reimer will be working with a team of researchers from the University of Calgary and Alberta Health Services. That team includes:  Charlene Elliott, the Canada Research Chair in Food Marketing, Policy and Children’s Health; Frank MacMaster, the Cuthbertson and Fischer Chair in Paediatric Mental Health and member of ACHRI and the Hotchkiss Brain Institute; Josephine Ho, medical lead for the Pediatric Centre for Weight and Health; Susan Jelinski, director of Research and Evaluation with the Provincial Chronic Disease Programs at Alberta Health Service; and Alun Edwards, the clinical co-director of the Obesity, Diabetes and Nutrition Strategic Clinical Network with the Alberta Health Services.