New research chair tips scales against obesity

For UAlberta's newest Campus Alberta Innovates Program chair, there’s more to body weight than meets the eye.


(Edmonton) The University of Alberta’s newest Campus Alberta Innovates Program chair is discovering there’s a lot more to body weight than meets the eye.

Carla Prado, CAIP Chair in Nutrition, Food and Health, researches the interaction between abnormal body composition—ratios of muscle and fat tissues—and overall health. Prado is particularly interested in sarcopenic obesity—a high amount of fat tissue and low amount of muscle mass.

Her past research suggested that abnormal body compositions can occur at all body weights and can predict complications in clinical conditions such as diabetes and cancer. As CAIP chair in the Faculty of Agricultural, Life and Environmental Sciences, Prado is examining what role the foods people eat have on their body composition and, in turn, on their health.

“A bodybuilder can have the same weight as an obese person but the bodybuilder will have a lot of muscle mass and an obese person will have a lot of fat mass. It’s different proportions of fat and lean muscle that are related to important health outcomes,” she said.

Further understanding a person’s body composition can lead to more efficient diagnosis, treatment and eventually prevention of clinical conditions, she added.

Prado completed her PhD in nutrition and metabolism at the U of A in 2008 before leaving Edmonton to complete a post-doctoral fellowship at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases and a two-year assistant professorship at Florida State University. She returned to the U of A in May to take on the CAIP position and become an assistant professor in the Department of Agricultural, Food and Nutritional Science.

Prado says the technology available in the department’s Human Nutrition Research Unit—including a metabolic chamber and a DXA, a scanner that uses dual X-rays to precisely measure body composition—provides a prime environment to carry out her research. She’s most excited, though, to return to the clinical nutrition program that brought her to Edmonton from her native Brazil in the first place.

“This is a dream come true for me. I love this place. When I first came, all I wanted to do was my PhD but I never dreamed of being a professor here one day,” she said. “But once I finished my PhD, I really knew I wanted to be back here as a professor.”

Prado is the second Campus Alberta Innovates Program chair to be appointed in the Faculty of Agricultural, Life and Environmental Sciences and one of seven chairs at the U of A. The $6-million program was created in 2011 by the provincial government to recruit new research leaders to Alberta in food and nutrition, energy and the environment, water and neuroscience.