Karin Jonsson

She turns 1000 pupils into scientists

​What scientist would say no to an extra pair of hands? Or a thousand? Not Karin Jonsson, researcher at Chalmers University of Technology. She takes part in the school project Help a Scientist, with the aim to find out more about young people’s eating habits.

​Eating more whole grain benefits public health. Research show that a high intake of whole grain is among the dietary factors with strongest potential to lower the risk of developing our most common diseases such as cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and colorectal cancer. Still, in Sweden nine out of ten eat too little whole grain. Among young people only 6 per cent eat the recommended amount, and the intake of sugar is too high.

Karin Jonsson wants to change this through her research at the division of Food and Nutrition Science at the Department of Biology and Biological Engineering. She views this project as a step in the right direction.

“Getting in direct contact with this important target group, and simultaneously making a thousand pupils into co-scientists, and co-analysts, presents a unique possibility. We can find out why they don’t choose healthy alternatives, and what has to be done for that to happen,” says Karin Jonsson.

Many obstacles for eating healthy
Every year the Nobel Prize Museum arranges Help a Scientist where Swedish universities and colleges are given the opportunity to collaborate with schools and pupils. The project is funded by the Swedish Foundation for Strategic Research.

This year’s project is called The Whole Grain Hunt and includes an extensive survey where over 1000 pupils from 28 Swedish schools answer questions about their eating habits and health, focusing on whole grain and sugar. In addition, there has been preference and perception tests performed on bread and different sugars. The preliminary results show, among other things, that there are many obstacles for young people to eat healthy.

Important to affect group with great power
“We are not surprised by those results, but the unique perspective of the survey are the analyses and conclusions made by the pupils themselves. The target group analyses the results and helps us identify what they need, regarding for example availability and product design, to make healthier choices,” says Karin Jonsson and continues:

“This is a group with great power. They may not only be influenced in their own target group, but their ‘wants’ and ‘needs’ also affect their parents and siblings. Furthermore, they are the consumers of the future. If we influence and affect them, we could make a great difference for public health.”

Karin Jonsson wants her research to make a difference. Her goal is to impact society, and Help a Scientist hits the bull’s eye. There is a great interest in the results from the project, and she has already been in dialogue with actors such as The Swedish Food Agency (Livsmedelsverket) and several food industries, that are eager to take part of the results.

Hope to inspire young scientist
Besides providing researchers with results the Nobel Prize Museum hope to inspire young people to pursue an academic career in the future.

“We hope this project will light a spark, or a burning interest, for research. We want the pupils to gain a deeper understanding in the work of a scientist and present the possibility for them of becoming scientists themselves. Since this project involves school classes, we also believe there is an involvement by children from diverse backgrounds,” says Anna Johanna Lindqvist Forsberg, project leader at the Nobel Prize Museum.

Recommends scientists to get involved in school projects
Research is a challenge itself and making a science project work in a classroom takes a lot of planning. The Nobel Prize Museum coordinates the communication between the participating teachers and the scientists. It has been time consuming, has involved compromises and has required good logistics. Karin Jonsson still thinks it has been worth the effort. She recommends other scientist to get involved in similar projects. The Whole Grain Hunt has provided her with results for further research and has also contributed to her professional development.

“This project has been challenging, in a good way. It required learning of methods I haven’t used earlier in order to adapt the research to a classroom. I have also been forced to think twice (and thrice) around my own area of research to present it in a pedagogic way to people outside the university,” says Karin Jonsson.

Text: Susanne Nilsson Lindh
Photo: Johan Bodell

Help a Scientist/The Whole Grain Hunt
  • Help a Scientist is a project under the auspices of the Nobel Prize Museum, and it is funded by the Swedish Foundation for Strategic Research.
  • The Nobel Prize Museum brings together teachers, students and scientists. Students gain a deeper understanding of what a research project can mean, and at the same time, the scientists get some help with their research.
  • The scientist in Help a Scientist 2019, The Whole Grain Hunt, is Karin Jonsson at Chalmers, in collaboration with Christel Larsson, University of Gothenburg, and Karin Wendin, Kristianstad University Sweden.
  • The students from the 28 participating schools prepare presentations, a scientific poster, of their work; the class then selects the best presentation to represent them in the poster competition organized by Nobel Prize Museum. A jury of science journalists nominate a winning poster. The prize is three tickets to the Nobel Prize Ceremony 10 December 2019.
  • Read more about Help a Scientist

Read more about the project to make Swedes eat more whole grain

Published: Mon 11 Nov 2019.