Professor  |  Director, WHO Collaborating Centre on Nutrition Policy for Chronic Disease Prevention

Mary L'Abbé

Department of Nutritional Sciences

CM, PhD

Location
Medical Sciences Building, 5th Floor, Room 5368C
Address
1 King's College Circle, Toronto, Ontario Canada M5S 1A8
Research Interests
nutrition policy, population health, food environment, product formulation, food labelling, food marketing, consumer behaviour, dietary intakes
Appointment Status
Primary
Accepting
Pending the availability of funding

Qualification

  • PhD, Nutrition, McGill University (1988)
  • MSc, Nutrition, McGill University (1983)
  • BSc (Honours), Biochemistry, Carleton University (1975)

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WHO Collaborating Centre for Nutrition Policy for Chronic Disease Prevention

At a Glance

  • Dr. L'Abbé's work aims to provide an evidence base to support sound public health nutrition policy.
  • Research areas currently of interest include health claims on foods, front-of-pack labelling, children’s marketing on foods, nutritional quality of packaged and restaurant foods, menu labelling, dietary intakes and patterns of the Canadian population using national nutrition surveys, food fortification, food-like natural health products, trans fat, sodium, and sugar.
  • The L’Abbé Lab’s research and food supply data have been used by Health Canada, the Ontario government, Toronto Public Health, Heart and Stroke Foundation, food industry, WHO/FAO and others to support monitoring, policy development and consumer programs.

About Dr. Mary L'Abbé

Dr. Mary L’Abbé is a Professor (formerly Earle W. McHenry Professor and Chair) in the Department of Nutritional Sciences, Temerty Faculty of Medicine at the University of Toronto, where she leads a research group on Food and Nutrition Policy for Population Health. She is also Director of the WHO Collaborating Centre on Nutrition Policy for Noncommunicable Disease Prevention. Dr. L’Abbé is an expert in public health nutrition, nutrition policy, and food and nutrition regulations, with a long career in in mineral nutrition research. Her research examines the nutritional quality, marketing and labelling products in the Canadian food supply, dietary intake patterns, and consumer research on food choices related to obesity and chronic disease. In 2018, Dr. L’Abbé was named a Member of the Order of Canada for her contributions to the health of Canadians as a champion of nutrition. She is an advisor to national health groups, Chairs the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) Technical Advisory Group on Cardiovascular Disease Prevention through Dietary Salt Reduction, and a member of the World Health Organization (WHO) Nutrition Guidance Expert Advisory Group on Diet and Health. Additionally, Dr. L’Abbé was co-chair of the Canadian Trans Fat Task Force, led the Trans Fat Monitoring Program and served as Chair and vice-Chair of the Canadian Sodium Working Group. Before joining the University of Toronto, Dr. L’Abbé was Director, Bureau of Nutritional Sciences at Health Canada. Dr. L’Abbé holds a PhD in nutrition from McGill University and has authored over 300 peer-reviewed scientific publications, book chapters and government reports.


Research Synopsis 

Dr. L’Abbé’s research group aims to provide an evidence base to support strong public- and private-sector public health nutrition policies concerning food labelling (e.g., nutrient content and health claims, front-of-package and menu labelling), marketing of foods to children, the nutritional quality of Canada’s packaged food supply (e.g., nutrient profiling, food fortification), and the dietary intakes and patterns of the Canadian population. Research approaches include: (i) consumer surveys on knowledge, attitudes and behaviours related to foods and nutrition; (ii) assessments of the nutritional quality, labelling and marketing of Canadian foods; (iii) the development and evaluation of mobile apps to motivate and enable consumers to improve their dietary intakes; and, (iv) the development of methods for assessing and modelling population intakes, using national food consumption surveys. Notably, Dr. L’Abbé’s team has developed and maintains 2 large databases containing nutrition and other label information for ~100,000 packaged foods collected in-store between 2010-2017 and via web in 2020 (Food Label Information Program, FLIP) and ~50,000 restaurant foods from the leading retailers and chain restaurants in Canada (Menu-FLIP). These databases are used in much of the research conducted by Dr. L’Abbé’s group. Other research interests include developing and testing consumer tools and apps to facilitate healthier food choices (e.g., FoodFLIP, One Sweet App, Big Life Salt Calculator), and exploring consumer nutrition knowledge, attitudes, behaviours and dietary intakes through online surveys administered to nationally representative samples of Canadian consumers. Research from Dr. L’Abbé’s lab and the FLIP food supply data have been used to support the monitoring, policy development and consumer programs of Health Canada, the Government of Ontario, Toronto Public Health, Heart and Stroke Foundation, the WHO/FAO, and the food industry, among others.


Recent Awards and Distinctions (Selected)

Fellow, American Society for Nutrition (2021)

Outstanding Peer Reviewer Award, CIHR College of Reviewers (2021)

Inaugural Fellow, Canadian Nutrition Society (2020)

The 2019 Rusted-Bayley Visiting Professor Award, Memorial University of Newfoundland (2019)

Member, Order of Canada, Governor General of Canada (2018)


National and International Committee Memberships (Current)

Board of Directors, Iodine Global Network (2020 - present)

Chair, Scientific Advisory Board, Meals4NCDs, Ghana, Africa, IDRC (2018 - present)

Scientific Advisor, Resolve to Save Lives, Bloomberg Philanthropies (2017 - present)

Invited Expert, Health Canada Meetings on Front-of-Pack Labelling, Ottawa (2017 - present)

Invited Expert, Health Canada Policies on Restricting Marketing of Unhealthy Foods to Children (2017 - present)

Director, WHO Collaborating Centre on Nutrition Policy for Chronic Disease Prevention (2015 - present)

Chair, PAHO/WHO Technical Advisory Group on Cardiovascular Disease Prevention through Dietary Salt/Sodium Reduction (2015 - present)

World Obesity Federation, Scientific and Technical Advisory Network (2014 - present)

International Network for Food and Obesity/NCDs Research, Monitoring and Action Support (INFORMAS; 2013 - present)

Canadian Cardiovascular Harmonized National Guideline Endeavour (C-CHANGE) Guideline Panel member (2013 - present)

Council on Mission: Priorities, Advice, Science and Strategy (CoMPASS), Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada (2013 - present)

WHO Nutrition Guidance Expert Advisory Group (NUGAG) and Member of the Diet and Health Sub-Committee (2010 - present)


Recent Publications

  1. Gaucher-Holm A, Mulligan C, L'Abbé MR, Potvin Kent M, Vanderlee L. Lobbying and nutrition policy in Canada: a quantitative descriptive study on stakeholder interactions with government officials in the context of Health Canada's Healthy Eating Strategy. Global Health. 2022 May 26;18(1):54. doi: 10.1186/s12992-022-00842-4. PMID: 35619107.
  2. Campbell NRC, Whelton PK, Orias M, Wainford RD, Cappuccio FP, Ide N, Neal B, Cohn J, Cobb LK, Webster J, Trieu K, He FJ, McLean RM, Blanco-Metzler A, Woodward M, Khan N, Kokubo Y, Nederveen L, Arcand J, MacGregor GA, Owolabi MO, Lisheng L, Parati G, Lackland DT, Charchar FJ, Williams B, Tomaszewski M, Romero CA, Champagne B, L'Abbe MR, Weber MA, Schlaich MP, Fogo A, Feigin VL, Akinyemi R, Inserra F, Menon B, Simas M, Neves MF, Hristova K, Pullen C, Pandeya S, Ge J, Jalil JE, Wang JG, Wideimsky J, Kreutz R, Wenzel U, Stowasser M, Arango M, Protogerou A, Gkaliagkousi E, Fuchs FD, Patil M, Chan AW, Nemcsik J, Tsuyuki RT, Narasingan SN, Sarrafzadegan N, Ramos ME, Yeo N, Rakugi H, Ramirez AJ, Álvarez G, Berbari A, Kim CI, Ihm SH, Chia YC, Unurjargal T, Park HK, Wahab K, McGuire H, Dashdorj NJ, Ishaq M, Ona DID, Mercado-Asis LB, Prejbisz A, Leenaerts M, Simão C, Pinto F, Almustafa BA, Spaak J, Farsky S, Lovic D, Zhang XH. 2022 World Hypertension League, Resolve To Save Lives and International Society of Hypertension dietary sodium (salt) global call to action. J Hum Hypertens. 2022 May 17:1–10. doi: 10.1038/s41371-022-00690-0. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 35581323; PMCID: PMC9110933.
  3. Ahmed M, Schermel A, Lee J, Weippert M, Franco-Arellano B, L'Abbé M. Development of the Food Label Information Program: A Comprehensive Canadian Branded Food Composition Database. Front Nutr. 2022 Feb 3;8:825050. doi: 10.3389/fnut.2021.825050. PMID: 35187026; PMCID: PMC8852278.
  4. Olstad DL, Beall R, Spackman E, Dunn S, Lipscombe LL, Williams K, Oster R, Scott S, Zimmermann GL, McBrien KA, Steer KJD, Chan CB, Tyminski S, Berkowitz S, Edwards AL, Saunders-Smith T, Tariq S, Popeski N, White L, Williamson T, L'Abbé M, Raine KD, Nejatinamini S, Naser A, Basualdo-Hammond C, Norris C, O'Connell P, Seidel J, Lewanczuk R, Cabaj J, Campbell DJT. Healthy food prescription incentive programme for adults with type 2 diabetes who are experiencing food insecurity: protocol for a randomised controlled trial, modelling and implementation studies. BMJ Open. 2022 Feb 15;12(2):e050006. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2021-050006. PMID: 35168964.
  5. Cappuccio FP, Campbell NRC, He FJ, Jacobson MF, MacGregor GA, Antman E, Appel LJ, Arcand J, Blanco-Metzler A, Cook NR, Guichon JR, L'Abbè MR, Lackland DT, Lang T, McLean RM, Miglinas M, Mitchell I, Sacks FM, Sever PS, Stampfer M, Strazzullo P, Sunman W, Webster J, Whelton PK, Willett W. Sodium and Health: Old Myths and a Controversy Based on Denial. Curr Nutr Rep. 2022 Feb 14. doi: 10.1007/s13668-021-00383-z. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 35165869.
  6. Vergeer L, Ahmed M, Vanderlee L, Mulligan C, Weippert M, Franco-Arellano B, Dickinson K, Bernstein JT, Labonté MÈ, L'Abbé MR. The relationship between voluntary product (re) formulation commitments and changes in the nutritional quality of products offered by the top packaged food and beverage companies in Canada from 2013 to 2017. BMC Public Health. 2022 Feb 10;22(1):271. doi: 10.1186/s12889-022-12683-2. PMID: 35144589; PMCID: PMC8832833.
  7. Warren C, Hobin E, Manuel DG, Anderson LN, Hammond D, Jessri M, Arcand J, L'Abbé M, Li Y, Rosella LC, Manson H, Smith BT. Socioeconomic position and consumption of sugary drinks, sugar-sweetened beverages and 100% juice among Canadians: a cross-sectional analysis of the 2015 Canadian Community Health Survey-Nutrition. Can J Public Health. 2022 Feb 9. doi: 10.17269/s41997-021-00602-8. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 35138596.
  8. Brassard D, Elvidge Munene LA, St Pierre S, Gonzalez A, Guenther PM, Jessri M, Vena JE, Olstad DL, Vatanparast H, Prowse R, Lemieux S, L'Abbé MR, Garriguet D, Kirkpatrick SI, Lamarche B. Evaluation of the Healthy Eating Food Index (HEFI)-2019 measuring adherence to Canada's Food Guide 2019 recommendations on healthy food choices. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2022 Jan 14. doi: 10.1139/apnm-2021-0416. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 35030069.
  9. Brassard D, Elvidge Munene LA, St Pierre S, Guenther PM, Kirkpatrick SI, Slater J, Lemieux S, Jessri M, Haines J, Prowse R, Olstad DL, Garriguet D, Vena JE, Vatanparast H, L'Abbé MR, Lamarche B. Development of the Healthy Eating Food Index (HEFI)-2019 measuring adherence to Canada's Food Guide 2019 recommendations on healthy food choices. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2022 Jan 14. doi: 10.1139/apnm-2021-0415. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 35030038.
  10. Blanco-Metzler A, Vega-Solano J, Franco-Arellano B, Allemandi L, Larroza RB, Saavedra-Garcia L, Weippert M, Sivakumar B, Benavides-Aguilar K, Tiscornia V, Sequera Buzarquis G, Guarnieri L, Meza-Hernández M, Cañete Villalba F, Castronuovo L, Schermel A, L'Abbé MR, Arcand J. Changes in the Sodium Content of Foods Sold in Four Latin American Countries: 2015 to 2018. Nutrients. 2021 Nov 16;13(11):4108. doi: 10.3390/nu13114108. PMID: 34836362; PMCID: PMC8624930.

In the News


Current Lab Members

Alyssa Schermel – Lab Manager

Dr. Mavra Ahmed – Postdoctoral Fellow

Dr. Anthea Christoforou – Postdoctoral Fellow

Nadia Flexner – PhD student

Samer Hamamji – PhD student

Jennifer Lee – PhD student

Christine Mulligan – PhD student

Yahan (Hailey) Yang – MSc student

Emily Ziraldo – MSc student

Alena (Praneet) Ng – Research Assistant

Madyson Weippert – Research Assistant


Teaching Appointments

Course Coordinator, NFS394Y/494Y: Research Projects in Nutritional Sciences, Department of Nutritional Sciences, Temerty Faculty of Medicine, University of Toronto