30 April 2015

From Ethnological Research to Everyday Health Recommendations

health recommendations

Governmental and other public health recommendations are based on health research, but changing the everyday lives of people requires more than just good advice. Humanities research into everyday life is essential for understanding why and how health recommendations work in practice. This is the basis for ethnologist Astrid Jespersen’s research in the interdisciplinary research field of health and everyday life.

Astrid Pernille Jespersen

Astrid Jespersen’s research focuses on the prevention of obesity and age-related diseases. There is a paradox inherent in prevention: you have to convince people to change their lifestyle and behaviour before they develop a problem. This means that you must observe a population group closely in everyday life to understand what it will take to change their habits and to maintain these changes as part of everyday routines. This insight serves as a foundation for targeting recommendations and devising tangible health solutions.

Astrid Jespersen’s collaboration with health researchers has led to the establishment of Copenhagen Centre for Health Research in the Humanities (CoRe), which she is heading. The centre brings together a range of research projects that offer cultural analysis and historical perspectives on health-related challenges.

Case description

Among the projects that Astrid Jespersen has brought together under the umbrella of CoRe is CALM - a UCPH Excellence Programme for Interdisciplinary Research. CALM focuses on the prevention of age-related loss of muscle mass (sarcopenia). Sarcopenia is a crucial factor in an ageing population’s ability to cope and to maintain a high quality of everyday life. We know that a protein-rich diet and physical exercise can counteract the loss of muscle mass and function, but how do we translate this knowledge into permanent healthy lifestyles? In order to analyse these complex challenges, CALM adopts an interdisciplinary approach: ethnological studies of everyday life and clinical trials are combined with an innovation project that involves the general public, private companies and health professionals in the development of specific recommendations for lasting lifestyle changes.


Translating new knowledge into lasting lifestyle changes requires a large number of related initiatives. One such initiative will follow up on knowledge about the benefits of a protein-rich diet in old age with new concepts and products designed to appeal to an ageing population. At their recent innovation workshop for selected companies and local health authorities, CALM worked with chefs and sensory-analysis researchers to improve the taste and texture of new protein-rich foods.


Ethnological knowledge about the everyday lives, attitudes and motivations of the ageing population is significant in many different contexts. Close interdisciplinary collaboration enhances the research’s social relevance. Astrid Jespersen’s research has had an impact in the following areas:

  • In the general population. The popular science book Det gode seniorliv (Living Well in the Third Age) (Strandberg Publishing, 2014) received wide coverage in the press and on TV and generated a significant demand for lectures.

  • In industry. Ethnological studies of consumers’ self-understanding and everyday lives are increasingly in demand as a valuable basis for product development.

  • In politics. Astrid Jespersen and the other CoRe researchers are increasingly involved as advisors in relation to the drafting of new political initiatives, e.g. by the National Board of Social Services.

Further info

Copenhagen Centre for Health Research in the Humanities (CoRe): www.core.ku.dk

The research project CALM: www.calm.ku.dk (in Danish)