Edith Klarin was the first Swedish nutritional physiologist who was a trained biochemist and thus combined science with practical knowledge. She was a pioneer of modern nutritional science and championed improvements in eating habits.
Edith Klarin was born in Kviinge, in Scania, in 1900. Her father was a businessman there. She trained as a school cookery teacher at Fackskolan för huslig ekonomi (vocational school for home economics) in Uppsala and then attended the Alnarp agricultural institute for further education. She was employed as a teacher at Fackskolan för huslig ekonomi from 1925–1929, following which she travelled to the USA on a stipend granted by Sverige-Amerikastiftelsen (Sweden-America foundation) to undertake undergraduate studies at Columbia University in New York. In 1936 she submitted her PhD in nutritional physiology at Wisconsin University in Madison. She worked in close collaboration with Henry C Sherman, professor of nutritional physiology, and Harry Steenbock, professor of biochemistry.
On her return to Sweden in 1936 Edith Klarin began to work at the newly established Näringsrådet (nutrition agency) and investigated hospital food standards. She suggested improvements to resolve the serious deficiencies in hospital food. She served as an expert on the “Lagstiftning om vitaminiserade livsmedel och om kringföringshandel med kött och charkuterivaror” (legislation for addition of vitamins to food and the vending of meat and meat-products) enquiry in 1937. She then served as a nutrition consultant and food expert at Stockholms stads sjukhusdirektion (Stockholm city hospitals directorate) from 1939 onwards where she was responsible for hospital provisions and food.
Towards the end of the 1930s Edith Klarin ran courses for the Kooperativa Förbundet (cooperative association) and for Sveriges Husmodersföreningars Riksförbund (national association of Swedish housewives’ associations) on the subject of affordable and nutritionally benefitial eating habits. Following the outbreak of the Second World War she began to work as an expert for the mouthpiece of Statens informationsstyrelse (national information board), Aktiv hushållning, which informed households how to best utilise their food rations during food shortages. As part of this Edith Klarin also held an exhibition called “Folkhushållning i kristid” (keeping a household during times of crisis). Edith Klarin collaborated with Sveriges Husmodersföreningars Riksförbund and coined the concept of ‘skyddsfödoämnen’ (protective foods) to describe those foods which best protected the body’s functions thanks to their high nutritional and vitamin content. At the same time she was working as a teacher at the Stockholm Ateneum för flickor (Ateneum girls’ school), which from 1939 was the municipal girls’ school in Norrmalm.
Edith Klarin was a popular educator and gave talks on how people could avoid diseases caused by deficiencies as well as ill-health caused by lack of food variety. She worked with the national nutrition information agency and made research developments in nutrition publicly available through both articles in the press and radio transmissions. One of Edith Klarin’s fundamental points of departure was that public health was better served through preventative work rather than dealing with illness brought on by deficiency. Her belief in gender equality included the view that nutrition information should not only be directed at housewives but also at men whose tastes and habits often determined eating habits in the home.
Edith Klarin published several books within the fields of nutrition and food handling, including Näringslära, en vägledning för hem och skola, from 1937, Närings- och födoämneslära, from 1939, and the crisis-pamphlet Mat som är värd sitt pris, from 1940. Edith Klarin, in collaboration with Professor Hilding Berglund, adapted the American Henry C Sherman’s book Food and Health to Swedish needs and released it in 1936 as Vår hälsa och vår föda.
Edith Klarin served as the chair of Stockholm Zontaklubb until her death. She died in 1944 and is buried at Norra Åkarp cemetery.