Maharishi School students, Pearl Sawhney (senior) and her brother, Surya (sophomore) won first place March 2 at the Iowa Junior Science and Humanities Symposium (IJSHS) in Iowa City. They will go to Maryland on May 2-6 to present at the 50th National Junior Science and Humanities Symposium, sponsored by the U.S. Army, Navy, and Air Force. Only two student teams (or individuals) in Iowa are invited to present their research before the National symposium and compete for significant military sponsored scholarships.
The Sawhneys project is entitled “Consumption of Animal Protein vs. Plant Protein: Exploring Solutions to Obesity.” The team conducted research to determine if there is a connection between non-vegetarianism and obesity and if non-vegetarians are at a higher risk of over-eating and snacking.
“We conducted laboratory experiments and collected field data using a questionnaire we designed,” explains Pearl. “Lab experiments to simulate human body conditions were used to examine the digestion of four plant and four animal proteins. Subsequently, a field study was conducted to understand peoples’ eating habits and behaviors. Questionnaires were filled by 500 randomly selected people in mid-western towns.”
The team found the results quite interesting, explaining that, “Those with a diet higher in meat also had a tendency to snack and over-eat more.” Their results also suggested that non-vegetarian food digests faster. “It seems that those with a more active lifestyle would benefit from a non-vegetarian diet, as energy is more readily available and gets used faster,” Pearl explains. “A passive lifestyle on this kind of diet leads to storage of energy as fat, eventually leading to obesity.” The team also noted that “eating habits and tastes are formed at young age, which are hard to change in later years even when people want to. Therefore, we need to focus on educating kids about food choices and its impact on their personal health and the health of the environment.”
This is the fourth year that Pearl has conducted research on the connection between diet and health, and the second year for Surya. “Each year I’ve studied a deeper and more complex layer of the subject,” Pearl says. Pearl and Surya have competed and won awards at multiple science fair competitions, with Pearl gaining accolades at the national level. “With each science fair competition I have learned to be a more effective public speaker and to communicate research in a way that is understandable to non-researchers,” says Pearl. “It’s also been an opportunity to make friends with other students from all over who also enjoy research.”
Pearl is looking to pursue a career in medicine. She is seeking admission to several midwest colleges offering excellent pre-med degrees.