Unit of Nutritional Epidemiology

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The primary objective of our scientific program is to understand the causal relations between nutrition, as well as other lifestyle factors and major chronic diseases.

Our research focus is to discover the environmental, genetic and epigenetic determinants of chronic diseases and develop new approaches for their prevention. We work in an interdisciplinary way with both questionnaire-based research and research on biomarkers to understand associations between diet, lifestyle and health and to investigate mechanisms behind the development of chronic diseases.

Our research encompasses diet, energy balance, obesity, physical activity, specific nutrients and dietary supplements, use of certain medicines, food-related contaminants, smoking, and intermediate biological markers. We investigate the associations with major chronic diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, bone health, cataracts, kidney disease, gastro-intestinal diseases, lower urinary tract symptoms, obesity, etc.

It has been recognized that dietary changes could potentially have enormous public health benefits, for example reducing incidence of cardiovascular, cancer and other chronic diseases. While we have made some notable advances, there still remains considerable uncertainty about nutritional determinants of chronic disease and their associated biological mechanisms.

Progress in resolving these uncertainties would advance the field of Nutritional Epidemiology and put both national and international public health recommendations and programs of health promotion and prevention on firmer evidence-based knowledge.


Head of Unit


Alicja Wolk

Telefon: 08-524 861 70
Enhet: Nutritionsepidemiologi
E-post: Alicja.Wolk@ki.se


Unit members

Kazem BehbahaniForskningsassistent
Andrea BellaviaDoktorand
Alessio CrippaDoktorand
Andrea DiscacciatiDoktorand
Holly HarrisPostdoc
Gunilla HedlinForskare
Helen HåkanssonProfessor
Niclas HåkanssonForskarassistent
Joanna KaluzaAnknuten
Sabina KarlssonDoktorand
Susanna LarssonDocent
Susanna LarssonForskare
Sergio Martinez RodriguezAnknuten
Camilla OlofssonDoktorand
Nicola OrsiniDocent
Nicola OrsiniForskarassistent
Viktor OskarssonDoktorand
Susanne Rautiainen LagerströmPostdoc
Marina Serrano Macia Anknuten
Louise SjöholmAnknuten
Louise SjöholmPostdoc
Otto StackelbergDoktorand
Frej StillingAnknuten
Frej StillingForskningsassistent
Mimi Throne-HolstForskningsassistent
Alice WallinDoktorand
Alicja WolkProfessor
Hong XuAnknuten
Jinjin Zheng SelinDoktorand
Agneta ÅkessonProfessor



The Nutritional Epidemiology Unit is a single administrative unit with no formal subunits. The Head of Unit is responsible for coordination of scientific activities and overall unit administration. Senior researchers are responsible for leading specific research projects and managing individual studies with the active contribution of postdocs and PhD-students. The whole unit meets regularly, once per week, to share relevant information, discuss practical research issues and administrative matters. The unit meets biweekly to present preliminary scientific findings, address timely research and general scientific topics, discuss recently published articles of interest, and practice conference presentations. The unit also holds additional ad hoc meetings when important scientific problems arise.


The Nutritional Epidemiology Unit has been a part of the Institute of Environmental Medicine (IMM) at Karolinska Institutet (KI) since 2002. As far back as February 1995, the first Nutritional Epidemiology Unit in Sweden was formally established within the Cancer Epidemiology Department, at Uppsala University with Dr. Alicja Wolk serving as the Head of Unit. In 1997, the department moved from Uppsala University to KI and formed the Department of Medical Epidemiology and Biostatistics (MEB).

In April 2002, Prof. Alicja Wolk moved together with her research group to IMM at KI and was appointed Head of Nutritional Epidemiology Unit with a mandate to expand the unit and revitalize the Nutritional Epidemiology research field.


Research at the unit is primarily supported by governmental research-funding agencies. Maintenance, development and follow-up of the four cohorts (SMC, SMC-C, COSM, COSM-C) is funded by the Swedish Research Council (VR). Research projects with specific hypotheses are financed by VR, Swedish Council for Working Life and Social Research (FAS), Swedish Research Council for Environment, Agricultural Sciences and Spatial Planning (Formas) and the Swedish Cancer Society. Participation in international projects is financed by EU- and NCI-funding.


Population-based prospective cohort studies

To pursue our hypotheses, we currently administer four prospective cohorts, compriced of 110 000 participants:

  1. The Swedish Mammography Cohort (SMC)
  2. The Swedish Mammography Cohort - Clinical (SMC-C)
  3. The Cohort of Swedish Men (COSM)
  4. The Cohort of Swedish Men - Clinical (COSM-C)


Projects at the Unit of Nutritional Epidemiology

The major part of the research at the Nutritional Epidemiology Unit is based on projects using data from two large cohorts; the Swedish Mammography Cohort (SMC) and the Cohort of Swedish Men (COSM). In this section, the cohorts and some of the results are described.

Follow-up of the cohort is accomplished through matching with national and regional registers with high completeness of diagnoses and population registers. In total the two cohorts currently hold information on more than 30,000 cardiovascular disease, 15,000 type 2 diabetes, 20,000 cancers, 20,000 fractures, 20,000 cataract extracts, and 28,000 deaths.

The cohorts will also be extended with additional information about polymorphisms in low risk genes. This will facilitate studies of genetic susceptibility and of interplay/interactions between lifestyle factors and genes in the development of chronic diseases.