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Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine

Faculty Profile: Linda Van Horn, PhD, RD

Linda Van Horn, PhD, RD

Professor, Associate Dean for Faculty Development, and Interim Chair, Department of Preventive Medicine

What are your research interests?

Generally, my research focuses on the role of diet in the prevention and treatment of disease.

What research projects are you currently pursuing?

I am currently working on a number of projects, including the Women's Health Initiative Follow-Up Study. This is a follow-up to a clinical trial in postmenopausal women, ages 50 to 79, to test the overall health impact of three major treatment strategies in a broad and representative group of mature women. These strategies include: estrogen replacement therapy (ERT), with or without progesterone; a low-fat diet; and calcium/vitamin D (Ca/VitD) supplementation. Treatments were compared with placebo (versus ERT), usual diet (versus low-fat diet) and placeboes for Ca/VitD.

I am also working on the Diet Intervention Study in Children (DISC) Follow-Up Study. The DISC is a NHLBI-funded clinical trial designed to test the efficacy and safety of a dietary intervention to reduce serum cholesterol levels in 8- to 10-year old, prepubertal children with elevated LDL cholesterol levels.

My current research projects also include a grant proposal for the study, “Maternal Avoidance of Metabolic Adversity.” Evidence continues to mount regarding the adverse impact of maternal obesity and excessive gestational weight gain. Not only is this problem detrimental to the health of the mother and potentially the birth outcome, but epidemiologic studies document an increased risk of chronic disease among the offspring as they grow up. There is also new data from Finland showing that careful dietary intervention beginning in early childhood and followed for up to 14 years is associated with lower body-mass index (BMI) and reduced cardiovascular risk. We need studies in this country that document the potential benefits of diet intervention during pregnancy. This work should be aimed at helping new mothers adopt healthier lifestyles themselves and become the role models for guiding their families in the same direction. Our research proposal targets this goal.

What are the objectives of your research interests?

I hope my efforts will lead to enhanced awareness of the overall nutrient quality and energy balance that can result through increased intake of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, and unsaturated fatty acids along with regular daily physical activity.

What are some of the challenges you face?

The obesity epidemic drives the nutrition focus towards energy restriction and reduction of sedentary behavior, but sustaining enhanced nutrient quality and regular physical activity long term remains a daunting research challenge, especially in this funding climate. This is especially crucial in preventing pediatric obesity, the undisputed and single most effective public health approach to treating the obesity epidemic.

Why did you choose Northwestern?

I came to Northwestern because of Dr. Jerry Stamler, the founding chair of the Department of Preventive Medicine and my long-term mentor, colleague, and friend, who is now professor emeritus but still actively engaged in NIH-funded research and remains an inspiration to all of us. More recently, and continually, I value this institution because of the academic excellence, intellectual stimulation, and outstanding collaboration I have had the privilege to experience among my Northwestern colleagues and friends.