Catherine S. Birken


Contact via Hospital for Sick Children


Key Research Areas
Associated Researchers
Associated Organizations

Recent Research Projects

TRajectories Of healthy life using Public Health and primary care Interventions in Canada: The TROPHIC Trial

2017/18-2020/21 • $6,804,917 • PI,CO,Other
The "Developmental Origins of Health and Disease (DOHaD)" hypothesis suggests that a healthy growth and development in pregnancy and early childhood is critical for optimal health and lifetime wellbeing. Yet, Canada's children are falling behind. Nearly 1 in 3 Canadian children are overweight or...

TARGet Kids!: Optimizing Human Potential

2015/16-2020/21 • $1,909,972 • PI,Other
Canada is failing its children. One in four are overweight or obese, mental health disorders have increased by 15% and 27% of preschool children are not developmentally ready to start school. These problems result in diminished health, wellbeing, educational achievement and lifetime...

TARGet Kids! COVID-19 Study of Children and Families: Safe Return to School, Work, and Play

2020/21 • $974,826 • PI,CO
Across Canada and around the world, governments have implemented policies to limit the spread of COVID-19 including physical isolation, school and childcare closures. Many governments are now reducing these measures and returning children and families back to school and work due to a number of...

CoMFORT (Cow's Milk Fat Obesity pRevention Trial)

2018/19-2020/21 • $679,517 • PI,CO,Other
Childhood obesity is a looming healthcare crisis with 1 in 3 Canadian children now living with overweight or obesity. The long term consequences of childhood obesity include increased risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and stroke which reduce quality of life and longevity. Cardiovascular...

Nutrition Recommendation Intervention trialS in children's Healthcare

2020/21 • $528,381 • PI,CO,Other
Canada's children are falling behind. One in 4 are overweight or obese and more than 1 in 3 have factors that put them at risk for cardiovascular disease as adults. Children from low-income families are 70% more likely to be overweight or obese. Research across disciplines has shown that early...

Capacity building in innovative clinical trials to optimize children's physical, mental and educational wellbeing

2016/17-2020/21 • $443,763 • PI,CO
Canada is failing its children. One in four are overweight or obese, one in six have a mental health problem and one in four are not ready to start school at the right time. Intervening early can improve children's physical, mental and educational well-being. Yet there are major gaps in...

Measuring cardiovascular Outcomes of Depression in reFerred Youth (MODIFY)

2019/20-2020/21 • $384,739 • PI,CO
Depression is a serious and recurrent chronic disorder that affects 5-8% of children. Individuals with depression are at increased risk of experiencing heart disease (heart attack and stroke). Heart disease is the leading cause of death for people suffering from depression. Research has shown...

PRECEDE: Preconception risk factors and Cardiometabolic health in Early childhood

2020/21 • $253,436 • PI,CO
Cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes are major public health priorities. More than 1 in 3 Canadian children have factors that put them at risk for type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, including overweight and obesity, unhealthy lifestyle behaviours, and abnormal measures of blood...

Population-based virtual mental health interventions for children, youth and families during COVID-19: If we build it, will they come?

2020/21 • $199,635 • PI,CO,Other
BACKGROUND: Public health emergency measures (EMs) to prevent the spread of COVID-19 have led to losses of structured school time, extracurricular activities, and social activities, impacting all aspects of children's lives. Virtual mental health care (MH) has since become ensconced in our...

Physical Activity and Sedentary Time among Very Young Children (0-3 Years) in Canada: A Longitudinal Examination of Prevalence, Health Indicators, and Measurement

2017/18-2020/21 • $148,333 • Scholarship/Fellowship,Other
Physical activity promotes healthy growth and development among young children and helps prevent the development of chronic diseases such as obesity and type 2 diabetes, which are expensive for Canada's healthcare system to treat. Before meaningful programs can be developed to support healthy...

Late preterm birth and cardiometabolic outcomes in children and young adults: Identifying opportunities for early life interventions

2020/21 • $111,229 • PI,CO
Nearly 15 million babies worldwide are born premature each year and 75% of these babies are now born late preterm (between 34-36 weeks of pregnancy). Although it is well established that children born very premature (<34 weeks of pregnancy) are at increased risk of lifelong health problems,...

Personalized Medicine for Children: The Early Childhood Obesity (EChO) Clinical Prediction Tool

2019/20-2020/21 • $110,050 • PI,CO
Childhood obesity tracks through adolescence and adulthood and has been forecasted to become the leading cause of cardiovascular disease in the next century. One in four children in Canada is currently overweight or obese, with children from ethnic minority and low-income households more likely...

A Clinical Decision Rule to Identify Young Children at Risk for Iron Deficiency

2018/19-2020/21 • $105,000 • PI,CO
An 18-month old child is seen by her family doctor for her 18-month check-up. She was breastfed in the first year, introduced to cow's milk at 10 months, and currently drinks 1 L of cow's milk per day by bottle. Her mother describes her as a fussy eater who has poor meat and vegetable intake. As...

Preconception Lifestyle Intervention for the Prevention of Gestational Diabetes Mellitus: A Randomized Clinical Trial

2020/21 • $100,000 • PI,CO
Gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM), defined as high blood sugar that is first recognized during pregnancy, affects up to 1 in 6 pregnant women worldwide and carries risks for both mother and child. It arises in women who have chronic abnormalities in the production and action of insulin. These...

Growth trajectories of children with autism spectrum disorder: Latent class growth model analysis using two sources of primary care data

2019/20-2020/21 • $97,500 • Scholarship/Fellowship,Other
Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) may be at high risk of obesity because of restricted diet with a preference for processed foods, low levels of physical activity participation, excessive screen time, and use of medications that may contribute to weight gain. Previous scientific work...

FActors of Mothers and Infants in Longitudinal Years (FAMILY) - A maternal and child birth cohort with babies identified from three Ontario existing pediatric cohorts and linked with health administrative data to create a birth cohort of infants and their siblings and mothers to study prenatal, postnatal and early childhood factors associated with maternal and child health and developmental outcomes

2019/20-2020/21 • $82,822 • PI,CO,Other
Considering the high health burden of asthma in children, the high incidence of asthma exacerbation during pregnancy, and the significant economic burden of poorly controlled asthma, it is crucial to characterise asthma phenotypes and to examine the impacts of this condition on children and...

Evaluating Collaborative Care for Postpartum Depression in Pediatric Primary Care Settings (EPDS Trial)

2014/15-2019/20 • $981,384 • PI,CO
Last year over 49,000 Canadian mothers experienced depression in the first year following childbirth, putting at least 80,000 children at risk for poor developmental outcomes. International experts have clearly identified exposure to maternal depression as a major childhood adversity and have...

Does regular xylitol use reduce the number of acute otitis media episodes in young children? A pragmatic RCT

2015/16-2019/20 • $677,429 • PI,CO
Acute Otitis media (AOM) is a common and costly condition in young children.4 By age 3 years, 84 % of children have had at least one episode of AOM and 46 % have had 3 or more episodes. More than one-tenth of insurance claims for children in Quebec are for AOM for a total cost of more than $10...

Team to Address Bariatric Care in Canadian Children (Team ABC3)

2015/16-2019/20 • $480,952 • PI,CO,Other
Severe obesity (SO) in Canadian children, defined as a body mass index greater than or equal to the 99th percentile, is not well-understood, and current treatments have not been very effective. The purpose of our team grant (Team to Address Bariatric Care in Canadian Children: Team ABC3) is to...

Missed opportunities for early intervention: Determinants of prevalence and characteristics of children with impairments unrecognized in health systems by kindergarten age among the 2009 birth cohort of Ontario children

2019/20 • $74,356 • PI,CO
Early identification and intervention can have a beneficial impact on the lives of young children who have developmental deficiencies. The percentage of children who enter kindergarten with an impairment or a special health need (ISHN) that impact their ability to function in the classroom has...

Fit for School, Fit for Life - Child Health and School Readiness

2014/15-2018/19 • $1,256,576 • PI,CO
A child's readiness to start school is an important concept that is measured by teachers in Kindergartens across Canada using a tool called the Early Development Instrument (EDI). The EDI has been shown to be associated with school success later in childhood and child well-being. There is new...

Prevalence and social determinants of developmental outcomes among 5-year-old children with health disorders: A Pan-Canadian study

2015/16-2018/19 • $378,411 • PI,CO
A health disorder early in life has tremendous impact on a child's developmental health trajectory. Among healthy children, approximately one in five kindergartners (20%) lacks the developmental skills to take advantage of school-based education. Among children with identified special health...

Impact of the Healthy Kids Community Challenge (HKCC) population health intervention on sugar intake and child health

2017/18-2018/19 • $298,333 • PI,CO
High sugar intake is an established risk factor for obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Nearly 30% of daily energy intake among young children in Canada is from total sugars and nearly 50% of total sugar intake is from sugar sweetened beverages (SSBs) and milk. More than 30% of...

Soy milk, grOwth and nutrition in Young children (SOY Trial): Vanguard Study of a Trials Within Cohorts Randomized Trial

2018/19 • $99,947 • PI,CO,Other
Obesity prevention in children is one of the top 5 research priorities identified by Canadian parents and doctors. Although cow milk has been a dietary staple for children in Canada for over a century, industry has touted soy milk as the 'perfect balance between good nutrition and good taste'...

PREVENT: PRobiotics for EVEry Newborn vs Treatment-as-Needed Comparative Effectiveness Trial

2018/19 • $95,000 • PI,CO,Other
There are trillions of microorganisms and genes in the human intestine, referred to as the gut microbiome. A healthy gut microbiome established in early childhood is important for ensuring that the gut functions well. An unhealthy microbiome has been linked to poor health in childhood and in...

Programming the gut microbiome for child growth and development: a multi-national intervention study.

2018/19 • $25,000 • PI,CO,Other
Malnutrition, which encompasses both under- and over- nutrition, is a global burden that affects low- middle- and high- income countries. Malnutrition of women entering pregnancy, and consequently of their children, perpetrates a vicious cycle with long-term consequences, including...

Understanding the effects of social, behavioural and metabolic factors on early childhood growth trajectories among Aboriginal Canadians

2012/13-2017/18 • $793,318 • PI,CO
Adult onset (type 2) diabetes is a major public health challenge for First Nations communities in Canada. This condition often leads to long term complications, reduced quality of life and early death. For almost 20 years, Sandy Lake First Nation and health researchers at the Universities of...

OptEC: Optimizing Early Child Development in the Primary Care Practice Setting: Pragmatic Randomized Trial of Iron Treatment for Young Children with Non-anemic Iron Deficiency

2011/12-2016/17 • $541,567 • PI,CO
The pre-school years are critical years for children to acquire early learning skills such as language, fine motor and social skills; this is termed early child development. Primary care doctors (family doctors and pediatricians) are in a unique position to identify children with health or...

Evaluation of the Healthy Kids Community Challenge in Early Childhood

2015/16-2016/17 • $248,669 • PI,CO
More than 30% of children in Canada are now overweight or obese. Obesity and poor health behaviours in early childhood track throughout life and increase the risk of adult-onset cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Interventions that reduce overweight and obesity in early childhood have immense...

Update of the Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines for the Early Years

2016/17 • $100,000 • PI,CO
The Canadian Physical Activity (PA) Guidelines for the Early Years (ages 0-4 years) have been a useful starting point for providing PA targets for children of the early years. However, after five years, there is reason to update the evidence and re-consider the guidelines in their current form....

PROMOTE: Preschoolers at Risk - Obesity trajectories & cardioMetabolic factors: Towards Early identification

2011/12-2015/16 • $655,641 • PI,CO
The metabolic syndrome is a group of factors including obesity, and abnormalities in blood pressure, insulin, and cholesterol that has been shown to be associated with type 2 diabetes and heart disease in adults. There is emerging evidence that rapid growth in early childhood increases the risk...

Update of the Canadian Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines for the Early Years

2015/16 • $100,000 • PI,Other
The Canadian Sedentary Behaviour (SB) Guidelines for the Early Years (ages 0-4 years) have been a useful starting point for providing SB targets for children of the early years. However, after five years, there is reason to update the evidence and re-consider the guidelines in their current...

CIHR Team in Traffic and Road Injury Prevention (TRIP)Program for Canadian Children

2010/11-2014/15 • $600,000 • PI,CO
Road traffic injuries are the leading cause of child death in Canada and most developed countries. In 2006, 95 children died and 13,313 were seriously injured in traffic in Canada (Transport Canada, 2006). After falling for decades, road traffic injury and death rates are now rising again in...

HOLD IT: Health Outcomes of Low vitamin D In Toddlers: A TARGet Kids!longitudinal cohort study

2010/11-2014/15 • $563,183 • PI,CO
Because of Canada's northern latitude, understanding vitamin D deficiency and associated preventable health problems is of major importance to Canadian children and their parents. There is reason for concern that low vitamin D levels may be contributing to the development of some of the...

DOIT Trial: vitamin D Outcomes and Interventions in Toddlers

2011/12-2014/15 • $429,479 • PI,CO
Vitamin D can be made in the skin by exposure to sunlight and can be found in certain foods. Vitamin D levels are alarmingly low in many North American children. Several health issues have been linked with low vitamin D. These include colds caused by viruses and asthma attacks. However, no study...

CIHR Team in Childhood Obesity Research

2010/11-2012/13 • $1,420,739 • PI,CO
Childhood overweight and obesity has reached epidemic levels in Canada, and the problem continues to worsen. There are important health consequences for overweight children, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and bone and joint problems, as well as psychologic problems...

DOIT Trial: vitamin D Outcomes and Interventions in Toddlers

2010/11 • $100,000 • PI,CO
Vitamin D can be made in the skin by exposure to sunlight and can be found in certain foods. Vitamin D levels are alarmingly low in many North American children. Several health issues have been linked with low vitamin D. These include colds caused by viruses and asthma attacks. However, no study...

Patents