Professor of Clinical Pediatrics, Department of Pediatrics, University of California San Diego
Division Chief, Academic General Pediatrics, Child Development & Community Health, University of California San Diego
Vice Chair, Faculty Development, Department of Pediatrics, University of California San Diego
Dr. Gahagan is a developmental-behavioral pediatrician and epidemiologist. She has expertise in developmental origins of health and disease, especially with regard to early-life risk factors for chronic disease. Her research program aims to understand how early life experiences lead to long-term developmental, physical and mental health functioning with a focus on health disparities. Human milk feeding is an important strategy for acute and chronic disease prevention. She began her career as a pediatrician on the Navajo Reservation moving up to Chief Clinical Consultant for the Navajo Area Indian Health Service. She has focused her work on disadvantaged minority populations 30 years including American Indian and Mexican American children in Arizona (1984 – 1995), African American children in Michigan (1995 – 2009) and Mexican American children in San Diego (2009 – current). In all of these settings, she has been a strong proponent for breastfeeding. Throughout her career, she has sought out interdisciplinary collaborations seeing the importance of approaching complex questions from multiple paradigms. Within this framework, she is an expert on early life nutrition, children’s growth, development of obesity and its consequences. Her current NIH-funded research focuses on prevention of infancy iron deficiency anemia and its long-term consequences; and early life factors related to preventing child and adolescent obesity. Gahagan leads a longitudinal cohort now in its 25th year with over 1000 young adult participants involved since infancy. Over the past 4 years, she has published 4 scientific articles related to breastfeeding and later health.
In the Division of Academic General Pediatrics, Child Development and Community Health led by Dr. Gahagan, there are two important and impactful successful lactation support programs. One addresses policies to decrease barriers to breastfeeding. The second is a clinical program that promotes continued human milk feeding for former premature infants. Since 2002, The Pediatric Department Center for Community Health has been providing Lactation Supportive Environment (LSE) programs in San Diego County. This program, overseen by Blanca Melendrez, and directed by Ann Kashiwa, seeks to eliminate barriers to breastfeeding through state and local policy development and systems and environmental change strategies. Goals include increasing the number of community healthcare centers, school districts, businesses, and childcare facilities that adopt policies supportive of breastfeeding and lactation accommodation. LSE programs have been successful at breaking down breastfeeding barriers. Over the past 16 years, we have received funding from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, San Diego County Health & Human Services Administration, First 5 San Diego and First 5 California. The Premature Infant Nutrition Clinic (PINC), under the direction of Dr. Eyla Boies, has five goals: 1) to work with infant’s primary care provider to improve the infants growth and nutrition; 2) to promote human milk nutrition after NICU discharge; to optimize the mother’s milk supply; 3) to assist mothers and infants with the transition to nursing at the breast; and 4) to monitor the nutritional status of the infant.