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. 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.
  2. Christoforou A, Norsen S, Bernstein J, L'Abbe M. Examining the Prevalence, Nutritional Quality and Marketing of Foods with Voluntary Nutrient Additions in the Canadian Food Supply. Nutrients. 2021 Sep 5;13(9):3115. doi: 10.3390/nu13093115. PMID: 34578992; PMCID: PMC8471483.
  3. Laar A, Kelly B, Holdsworth M, Quarpong W, Aryeetey R, Amevinya GS, Tandoh A, Agyemang C, Zotor F, Laar ME, Mensah K, Laryea D, Asiki G, Pradeilles R, Sellen D, L'Abbe MR, Vandevijvere S. Providing Measurement, Evaluation, Accountability, and Leadership Support (MEALS) for Non-communicable Diseases Prevention in Ghana: Project Implementation Protocol. Front Nutr. 2021 Aug 18;8:644320. doi: 10.3389/fnut.2021.644320. PMID: 34485355; PMCID: PMC8416277.
  4. Lee JJ, Ahmed M, Zhang T, Weippert MV, Schermel A, L'Abbé MR. The Availability and Quality of Food Labelling Components in the Canadian E-Grocery Retail Environment. Nutrients. 2021 Jul 29;13(8):2611. doi: 10.3390/nu13082611. PMID: 34444771; PMCID: PMC8399674.
  5. Ng AP, Jessri M, L'Abbe MR. Using partial least squares to identify a dietary pattern associated with obesity in a nationally-representative sample of Canadian adults: Results from the Canadian Community Health Survey-Nutrition 2015. PLoS One. 2021 Aug 5;16(8):e0255415. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0255415. PMID: 34351952; PMCID: PMC8341606.
  6. Bertinato J, Qiao C, L'Abbé MR. Iodine Status of Canadian Children, Adolescents and Women of Childbearing Age. J Nutr. 2021 Jul 27:nxab268. doi: 10.1093/jn/nxab268. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 34313736.
  7. Ahmed M, Mandic I, Lou W, Goodman L, Jacobs I, L' Abbé MR. Dietary Intakes From Ad Libitum Consumption of Canadian Armed Forces Field Rations Compared With Usual Home Dietary Intakes and Military Dietary Reference Intakes. Mil Med. 2021 Jun 12:usab222. doi: 10.1093/milmed/usab222. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 34117489.
  8. Hack S, Jessri M, L'Abbé MR. Nutritional quality of the food choices of Canadian children. BMC Nutr. 2021 May 29;7(1):16. doi: 10.1186/s40795-021-00422-6. PMID: 34049592; PMCID: PMC8164219.
  9. Ahmed M, Praneet Ng A, L'Abbe MR. Nutrient intakes of Canadian adults: results from the Canadian Community Health Survey (CCHS)-2015 Public Use Microdata File. Am J Clin Nutr. 2021 Sep 1;114(3):1131-1140. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/nqab143. PMID: 34020449; PMCID: PMC8408873.
  10. Mulligan C, Potvin Kent M, Vergeer L, Christoforou AK, L'Abbé MR. Quantifying Child-Appeal: The Development and Mixed-Methods Validation of a Methodology for Evaluating Child-Appealing Marketing on Product Packaging. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2021 Apr 29;18(9):4769. doi: 10.3390/ijerph18094769. PMID: 33947116; PMCID: PMC8124606.

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