Do Women Who Bake Get More Love?

What’s the Risk/Benefit of a Home-Cooked Dinner?

Lots of seemingly wholesome and harmless strategies for fighting obesity — like a home-cooked dinner — are routinely promoted without the same kind of rigorous analysis that would go into new medical or pharmaceutical technology. What’s the harm, after all? Much of this is as wholesome as apple pie.

Sociologists from North Carolina State University are suggesting in Contexts (a peer-reviewed journal of the American Sociological Association) that even such innocuous strategies as a home-cooked dinner entail costs and risks of harm that should be weighed against evidence of benefits.

In the case of home-cooked meals, the evidence of a real benefit is thin, based on an association between eating home-cooked meals and lower BMIs. A recent analysis published in Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition by Krista Casazza and a group of distinguished experts concludes that the notion of participation in family mealtimes preventing obesity is best classified as a presumption. Evidence is lacking to either support or refute this belief.

So we don’t know if increasing the frequency of idealized family mealtimes cooked up by Mom or Dad will put any dent in the rates of childhood obesity. Yet foodies, public health officials, and even First Lady Michelle Obama are all promoting home-cooked meals as a linchpin for fighting the curse of childhood obesity.

Along come sociologists Sarah Bowen, Sinikka Elliott, and Joslyn Brenton from North Carolina State University. They suggest that sending Mom and Dad on a guilt trip to provide these idyllic family meals might not be helpful to anyone. Time pressures, financial pressures, and the burden of pleasing Bud and Kitten can take a real toll. They base their concerns on 150 depth interviews with black, white, and Latina mothers from diverse backgrounds. They also spent over 250 hours recording ethnographic observations with 12 working class and poor families.

As much as we love Mom’s cooking, perhaps the sociologists have a point. Maybe sweeping recommendations to rearrange family life should be based on real evidence.

Click here to read more in Time and here to read the study in Contexts. Click here for the analysis by Casazza et al.

Do Women Who Bake Get More Love? 1962 Aunt Jemima cornbread mix ad, 1962 from Classic Film / flickr

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