Hope Jahren, a scientist out of the University of Oslo in Norway, has dedicated her research to understanding how living and fossil organisms are linked to the global environment. In practice, this can mean many different things. For example, though Jahren’s background is in soil science, her studies range from observing how moss grows in a specific direction to maximize water exposure and absorption to understanding how trees “communicate” environmental risks to neighboring groves through the spread of affected parts via pollinators and wind currents. Lately, Jahren’s lab has expanded their research to human health, with a special eye towards better understanding human metabolism.
Most recently, Jahren has trained her expert focus on the pressing societal issue of childhood obesity, which has been rising since the 1970s and is currently at an 18.5% among two-to-19 year olds in the USA. One major problem health experts face in identifying at-risk children and diagnosing those who are overweight, is the inaccuracy of self-reported dietary information. As many of us can probably relate to, it’s difficult to tell the truth about poor eating habits when face-to-face with a doctor. At my last physical routine, when the doctor asked about my daily eating habits, I conveniently remembered to report all my fruit and vegetable consumption… but I temporarily “forgot” about my nightly snack of ice cream and a brownie.
To circumvent this issue, Jahren’s lab was able to isolate a new biomarker that health practitioners can use to help them effectively identify at-risk patients. A biomarker is a substance that can be detected and measured in an individual’s body, and can ultimately be used as an indicator of certain health conditions. In this case, Jahren’s lab identified an added sugar (AS) biomarker, which correlates with an individual’s consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages (SSB) such as sodas. The biomarker shows up in fingerstick blood results, making it easy to measure in a minimally invasive manner. By identifying this accessible and accurate biomarker, Jahren’s lab has provided health care practitioners with a promising lead in their fight against childhood obesity, as AS and SSB are crucial players in the national epidemic. You can read about the full results of Jahren’s experiment here.