"We are placing more and more emphasis on the societal impact of research today; in the grant environment or university policy, including the University of Iceland's strategy. It is thus important that research findings and developmental work affiliated with research result in utilization of some sort to benefit society," says Anna Sigríður Ólafsdóttir, professor of nutrition at the University of Iceland's School of Education. She recently received first prize in the Academy for Woman Entrepreneurs (AWE) for her project Taste Bud Training that she is planning to take further and offer both courses and consultation to professionals and family to work on food sensitivity.
Anna Sigga, as she is always called, has for the past six years been working on the project which is based on her and her colleagues' research on new ways to tackle food sensitivity. "Taste bud training is a new approach to food sensitivity in children, based on using all the senses, play and home assignments to experience and learn to enjoy a varied diet. The original project focused on intervention in the school environment and training for parents. We had considerable success in treating both neurotypical and -divergent children; on the spectrum and ADHD, and their families. Food sensitivity was reduce for shorter and longer periods and the children approved more food categories, including vegetables, and the stress and problems around meals was reduced. There were also indications that food satisfaction was increased which is an influencing factor in connection with a healthy diet; a recent focus in research," says Anna Sigga about the research findings of her research with Sigrún Þorsteinssdóttir, who did her PhD thesis on this project.
Get numerous requests from helpless people
Anna Sigga has, with her colleagues, already helped a large group of people through her research and says that they regularly receive requests from helpless families, health professionals, and schools. "When I saw the notice on the Academy for Woman Entrepreneurs (AWE) it immediately piqued my interest, as I saw an opportunity to work on a solution to offer a service based on research and get the tools and support I needed. I both enjoyed and found it necessary to add to add to my toolbox and knowledge and the internet course and the work sessions in AWE provided me with both," says Anna Sigga when asked why she participated in the programme.
The University of Iceland organises the AWE programme in collaboration with the American Embassy in Iceland. The United States government runs the initiative in over 80 countries all over the world. AWE aims at supporting women in further developing their business ideas and increasing their presence in innovation and entrepreneurship.
AWE lived up to expectations
This was the third time that AWE has been held in Iceland and over 20 women were chosen for participation. All participants completed Dreambuilder, an online training programme organised by Arizona State University, as well as workshops organised by the University of Iceland in collaboration with women with extensive experience in business.
"The plan is to offer courses and training for teachers and health professionals who wish to use the methods in their jobs and to be able to offer courses and personal consultation to families," says Anna Sigga who is here with other winners in AWE.
Anna Sigga says that AWE totally lived up to her expectations "In AWE I worked on my business plan that I will execute this summer. The progression of the programme was excellent as Dreambuilder, the online training programme organised by Arizona State University, is designed so that each session adds to the business plan in accordance with the subject in each session. The workshops organised by the University of Iceland motivated me further, especially talking with other women who took part with diverse and dynamic ideas - the community and the networks we built are extremely valuable. Furthermore, the contribution of the women organising AWE was invaluable and encouraging. In addition to sharing their knowledge and experience they connected us to their network of women mentors with vast experience in innovation I have thus gained valuable experience that I can draw from in my future endeavours with the knowledge that I have a network for support and encouragement," says Anna Sigga on her participation.
Food sensitivity and food upbringing much more complex than expected
The first prize for best business plan in AWE went to the project Taste Bud Training. The woman behind the project is Anna Sigríður Ólafsdóttir. Asked about her vision for the Taste bud training Anna Sigga says she wants to create a service based on interdisciplinary and verified knowledge her research team is creating, as well as advancing the acquisition of knowledge with further research. Berglind Lilja Guðlaugsdóttir is currently working on further research in her PhD thesis on food sensitivity in pre-school children under the supervision of Anna Sigga. The project is in close collaboration with preschools all over Iceland.
"Food sensitivity and food upbringing is a much more complex issue than it seems and our approach to the problem is vital as food connects people, and has an impact on how your mental health and the social value of meals apart from the clear relevance that nutrition has for physical health. The plan is to offer courses and training for teachers and health professionals who wish to use the methods in their jobs and to be able to offer courses and personal consultation to families. Judging by the number of inquiries and the attention our research has received as well as the courses affiliated with them from both the general public and professionals in Iceland and abroad, it is clear to us that the interest and demand is great. I am so lucky to work with a very ambitious interdisciplinary and experienced team. The future is exciting," says Anna Sigga full of optimism.
We must channel research findings in society
Anna Sigga is a prolific research scientist and entrepreneur who has always placed emphasis on the dissemination of her research. She is regularly presented in the media, even with a TV programme on nutrition on the Icelandic National Broadcasting Service last year.
She underlines that research findings must be useful to society in some way. "This role is in fact beautifully worded in the University strategy which states: "Knowledge creation at the University helps our society address a wide range of challenges, including climate change, natural hazards, rapid technological advancements and a variety of threats to human health and well-being." It is expensive to conduct research, and it takes a long time, perseverance, and passion from research scientists. We must not put a full stop to the research findings after publication in a peer-reviewed article, we must find ways to channel them into society to be used there," she concludes.