Linda Van Horn, PhD, RDN, has a longstanding interest in the role of diet in prevention and treatment of chronic disease, especially heart disease. A research nutritionist at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, she began her career studying the benefit of dietary intervention to reduce high blood cholesterol and high blood pressure in at-risk middle-aged men. She later expanded her prevention research focus to include the health benefits of diet in women and children. Currently, her research lens is aimed specifically at the importance of diet quality in pregnant and lactating women, especially those living with overweight and obesity.
In 2018, with support from NHLBI, Van Horn coauthored an influential paper showing that pregnant women can safely limit their weight gain with diet and exercise interventions. A more recent study underscored the importance of beginning those interventions as early as possible to help reduce maternal mortality and improve the long-term health of the child. The goal, Van Horn said, is to help these future moms “learn and adopt the diet behaviors that they will soon apply as mothers running a family.” In turn, these women can “help promote future generations to maintain this healthy lifestyle and therefore reduce their risk of chronic disease across the generations.”
Today, Van Horn’s nutrition research continues to generate new findings related to prevention of heart disease. She recently coauthored a widely publicized study that linked twice-weekly consumption of processed meat or unprocessed red meat with a higher risk of cardiovascular disease and premature death. Growing scientific evidence encourages people to increase their intake of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, nuts and other healthy foods, like those outlined in the DASH Eating Plan, to improve their cardiovascular health. Van Horn noted that improving these eating patterns is particularly important in preventing pediatric obesity and is “the undisputed, single, most effective public health approach to conquering the obesity epidemic and reducing risk for chronic disease.”
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