Karen Davison, Researcher

Institute for Life Course & Aging
University of Toronto

The Intersections of Nutrition and Mental Health: A Life Course Perspective

Nutrition-related exposures throughout the life span can influence various mental health outcomes in current and future generations. Nutritional factors, from preconception to older adulthood, have the potential to shape individual or population health trajectories and their intergenerational differences. Given predictions that by the year 2030 poor mental health will be a leading cause of global disease burden, it is likely that health practitioners will have increasing contact with individuals who are struggling with their nutritional and mental health. In addition, policy makers will be challenged with how to foster population mental health in the context of continued urbanization, globalization of the food industry, and changes in people’s lifestyles and eating habits. This presentation will highlight the complex relationships across life stages, dietary intakes, nutrigenomics, and mental health outcomes. The findings will be discussed in the context of how population mental health across the life span and over generations can be advanced through initiatives that shift eating patterns toward intakes of higher quality diets and macro-level environments that support critical phases of human development. Recent work that involved training of mental health professionals to incorporate evidence-based nutrition education in their practice will be featured. Finally, recommendations for nutrition assessments, education, service delivery and programming, as well as policies aimed toward nutritional and mental health across the lifespan will be discussed.

Speaker/Chair Bio:

Karen Davison is a researcher with the Institute for Life Course & Aging at the University of Toronto and works in clinical dietetics practice with individuals diagnosed with mental and cognitive health conditions including traumatic brain injuries. As a health educator, practitioner, and researcher, Karen has been involved with several initiatives that have advanced health practice among diverse populations. She is alumna of two Canadian Institutes for Health Research fellowship programs and recipient of Popular Science’s Magazine Clinical Leader Recognition Award. She also received a Dietitians of Canada Peer Recognition Award for her work in nutrition and mental health. Karen is currently an Academic Editor for PLoS One, an inductee in the College of New Scholars, Scientists, and Artists of the Royal Society of Canada, and elected member of Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Honor Society.  She also serves on Health Canada’s Nutrition Science Advisory Committee. Her research interests include nutrition and its relationships with physical, mental, and cognitive health including interventions that may be used to improve chronic disease prevention and management.