Science - November 17, 2016

Food researcher leaves 2 million to WUR

Ton van den Born

Former Assistant Professor Johanna Edema of the Department of Human Nutrition, who died at the end of 2015 at the age of 92, has left 2 million euros to WUR for research into food and eating habits. The money, managed by the Edema-Steernberg Foundation, will be used, among other things, to pay five trainee research assistants.

During her carreer, Johanna Edema was interested in why people eat what they eat, said Frans Kok, Emeritus Professor of Nutrition and Health and chair of the board of the Edema-Steernberg Foundation. ‘It may seem trivial, but it's an essential question.'

Social factors
Edema’s interest in the influcence of social factors on eating habits conflicted with the then predominant natural sciences paradigm, according to Kok. 'She was never really able to make any headway.' Kok experienced this first hand both as a student and then as a professor. Edema retired in 1987.

About a year ago, Edema invited Kok to visit her. She wanted to establish a foundation to manager her legacy. 'It was quite an amount of money,' Kok said. 'Donations are often made, for example, to the Anne van der Ban Fonds, but this was an enormous surprise. It's fantastic that she can now have research done in the direction that she championed. And also sad that she isn't able to see the results of such research.'

Eating habits
The five trainee research assistants (AIOs) now being sought will study such matters as the eating habits of adolescents, diabetes-2 patients and pregnant women, the taste development of children from lower socio-economic classes and how we respond to food temptations. Kok: 'Of course it's very important to know how your body reacts to healthy and unhealthy food, but equally important is to understand people's eating habits. If you understand these, then you can improve the surroundings, change habits by communicating information and thus work to improve the quality of life.' 'There is already some research into this,' Kok admitted, 'but what is unique, also for Wageningen, is that a link is being made between the natural sciences and the social sciences.’

What is unique is the link between the natural sciences and the social sciences.

In addition to the money for the five AIOs, there is also a budget to support four foreign Master students and for a postdoc who will have a role in continuing the research. In addition, the foundation will organise an annual meeting for Edema’s relatives, friends and ex-students who 'were so fond of her.' Kok: 'We hope that this research will continue in her spirit and that people will be able to see that her legacy is being well spent.'