Adjunct Faculty

Sjurdur F. Olsen

Adjunct Professor of Nutrition



Narrative biosketch

Dr. Sjurdur Frodi Olsen has throughout his research carrier focused on the impact of maternal diet on child health. His initial research interest was to examine impact of long chain n-3 fatty acids on pregnancy outcomes. He and colleagues were the first to suggest and show that fish oil in pregnancy could postpone timing of spontaneous delivery and reduce risk of preterm delivery (Lancet 1986, Lancet 1992, BJOG 2000, BMJ 2002), a contention which has only relatively recently been corroborated by others in equally well conducted randomized controlled trials (e.g. Makrides M et al. JAMA 2010; 304 (15): 1675-83, see table 4; and Hauner H et al. Am J Clin Nutr 2012; 95 (2): 383-94, see table 3). The original observations were that birth weights and pregnancy durations were found to be at higher levels in the Faroe Islands compared to Denmark and other geographically defined populations (JECH 1985, Lancet 1986), and that fish oil supplementation in Danish pregnant women appeared to increase pregnancy durations to similar levels to those observed in women in the Faroe Islands (Lancet 1992). In a multicenter clinical trial, undertaken in seven European countries (BJOG 2000), Olsen, Secher and other colleagues found that fish oil supplementation was associated with reduced recurrence risk of preterm delivery. Olsen and colleagues have conducted many studies addressing various aspects of these issues, including studies considering effects of low doses of long chain n-3 fatty acids (BJN 1990, JECH 1993, BMJ 2002, EJE 2006); studies using biomarkers to represent intake of marine n-3 fatty acids in pregnancy (JIM 1989; AJOG 1991; BJN 1995a; BJN 1995b); historical studies of early trials in the field (BJN 1990; eBMJ 1998; BMJ 1999; JRSM 2006); studies of changes over time in birth weight (JECH 2001) and cause-specific perinatal mortality patterns (BJOG 1995, AOGS 2000) in the Faroe Islands; a study in rats (PLEFA 1990); a ‘second thoughts paper’ considering the theoretical possibility that specific dietary exposures – notably, marine foods – could be underlying the association that had been observed between low birth weight and increased risk of cardio-vascular diseases in adulthood (JCE 1993); and a review paper examining the basis (which included the seemingly fast effect of dietary fatty acids on the delivery mechanism) for believing that long chain n-3 fatty acids and fish oil might have the potential to become part of future acute tocolytic treatment regimen for women in preterm labor (AOGS 2003) [for references, please see list of selected publications].

Dr. S.F. Olsen is part of the team that established the Danish National Birth Cohort. He is member of its Management Group and he has been responsible for the introduction, implementation, and conduct of the maternal dietary component of DNBC. During 1996 to 2003 seventy thousands of the pregnant women responded to a comprehensive general dietary questionnaire, generating the first large database worldwide of its kind (Olsen SF et al. Paediatr Perinat Epidemiol 2007).

Dr. Olsen and colleagues have during the last few years established intensive follow-up studies of birth cohorts and pregnancy trials stemming from the early studies that he and his colleagues did. For instance, in one study 965 pregnant women, who delivered during 1988-89, had a detailed dietary assessment during mid-pregnancy and gave blood samples that have been stored since then. The offspring are being followed by registry linkages and have been invited to complete questionnaires and participate in a comprehensive clinical examination program (e.g. see Halldorsson, … , Olsen SF, Environ Health Perspect 2012), making this cohort one of the prospective studies of effects of maternal nutrition with the longest follow-up time. In another follow up study, Olsen and colleagues are examining long term effects of fish oil supplementation in pregnancy on offspring risk of developing asthma (Olsen SF et al. Am J Clin Nutr 2008) and cardio-metabolic diseases (e.g. see Rytter, … , Olsen SF. Am J Clin Nutr 2011 and BJN 2012).

Dr. Olsen is involved in several international collaborative efforts. In a European context, he was partner in the Framework Programme (FP) 5 project NUTRIX and Theme Leader in the FP6 Integrated Project EARNEST, both of which focused on effects of early nutrition on health; and he is partner in the recently established Early Nutrition Project, a Large-Scale Integrated Project also funded by the European Commission, under FP7. He is Danish co-PI in the NIH/NICHD initiated ‘Diabetes and Women’s Health Study’ which is seeking to identify determinants (medical, lifestyle, genetic and their interactions) for the progression from gestational diabetes to type 2 diabetes; this US-Danish collaborative study is based on long term follow up of approximately 5,000 women with diabetes in pregnancy in the two major cohorts, the US Nurses’ Health Study II and the Danish National Birth Cohort. Furthermore, together with Dr ZHOU Weijin he initiated a randomized controlled trial with fish oil supplementation that is presently being undertaken in China.

Dr. Olsen has served on several expert committees. While he was a member of the Danish Nutrition Council, he chaired the Council’s expert panel that in 2005 published an extensive report reviewing the scientific evidence underpinning dietary advice in relation to pregnancy. As member of the expert group on ‘Pregnancy and Lactation’ (PAL), he is currently contributing to updating the 5th version of the Nordic Nutrition Recommendations (‘NNR5’) financed by The Nordic Council of Ministers.

Dr. Olsen has had research employments at Academia Faeroensis, Aarhus University, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Danish Epidemiology Science Centre, University of Copenhagen, and Statens Serum Institut. He established the Maternal Nutrition Group at Statens Serum institut, where he is Chief Physician. During two years, from Oct 2005 to Oct 2007, he was ordinary (full) professor of epidemiology at Aarhus University. Since 1995 he has visited Department Nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health many times; one of several important aims of his visits has been to seek advice in relation to effectuating the nutritional component of the Danish National Birth Cohort. He has collaborative projects on-going with researchers and doctoral students at the School, where he is a regular visitor and has been teaching at different courses; in Dec 2006 he became formally affiliated with Harvard School of Public Health as adjunct professor in nutrition.

On Jan 1, 2010, Sjurdur F. Olsen became the Leader of the Centre for Fetal Programming, which is a multidisciplinary research consortium funded for a five year period by the Danish Council for Strategic Research. The aim of the Centre is to examine and understand fetal programming of health related phenomena. The Centre is located in 12 different institutions and includes both epidemiological, animal experimental, and clinical physiological approaches.