Healthy Kitchens or Health Hazards?

Health advocates, food activists, dietitians, and, increasingly, pediatricians are proclaiming that healthy kitchens can be a potent factor for obesity prevention. A recent randomized, controlled trial suggests that reshaping the home food environment may lead to improved results for behavioral weight loss programs.

Perhaps this thought is taking hold. In Nutrition Journal, researchers from UNC-Chapel Hill recently documented that the longstanding trend away from home food preparation and consumption may have stopped by 2007-2008. Low income individuals — who have higher obesity risk — have seen the greatest decline in home cooking. Yet more of their daily calories come from home, and they still spend more time cooking than high-income individuals.

Amy Goren and colleagues from the University of Connecticut published the randomized trial of reshaping the home food environment in Health Psychology. They found that a program to change the home food and exercise environment really did work to do just that. And they found that adding such a program to a behavioral weight loss program resulted in more weight loss after six months for both men and women. The benefit was sustained for women after 18 months, but not for men. Interestingly, household partners regardless of their gender also sustained a benefit after 18 months.

A centerpiece of Kids Eat Right, from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, is encouraging children to take part in preparing a family meal. In a New York Times op-ed, Pediatrician Neil Izenberg cautions that certain aspects of popular kitchen designs can be a health hazard: “super-size refrigerators, stoves that could service a restaurant, and large enough cabinets to store provisions for a small army. Even our dinner plates are bigger than they used to be. Comfy chairs, computer stations and a large-screen TV — virtual necessities — round out the picture.”

Mark Bittman likewise uses his regular column to advocate for simple approaches to healthy kitchens at home, saying, “Children are probably more likely to develop healthier eating habits if their parents cook, and there are countless reasons it pays to cook for your kids.”

We can expect to hear more about this from healthcare professionals for some time to come. Healthy Kitchens, Healthy Lives is an initiative in its seventh year of training healthcare leaders and providers to bring core concepts for healthy kitchens to the patients and communities they serve. The program is a partnership among the Harvard School of Public Health, the Culinary Institute of America, and the Samueli Institute.

Click here to read the Goren study, click here to read the study from UNC-Chapel Hill, click here to read more about Kids Eat Right, click here to read the Izenberg op-ed, click here to read the Bittman column, and click here to read more about Healthy Kitchens, Healthy Lives.

Kitchen Duty image © Poul-Werner Dam / flickr

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