Nav: Home

Cooking at home tonight? It's likely cheaper and healthier, study finds

March 14, 2017

Researchers from the University of Washington School of Public Health have been peeking into kitchens - via interviews - for years now. They've just published results showing people who cook at home more often are likely to eat a healthier overall diet.

"By cooking more often at home, you have a better diet at no significant cost increase, while if you go out more, you have a less healthy diet at a higher cost," said Adam Drewnowski, director of the UW's Center for Public Health Nutrition and senior author of "Cooking at home: A strategy to comply with U.S. dietary guidelines at no extra cost," published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

The measurement used to define a healthy diet is called the Healthy Eating Index. It gauges whether a person's diet is giving them the right combination of fruits, vegetables and other elements.

As part of the Seattle Obesity Study, researchers interviewed 437 King County adults, who were asked to remember their last week of eating in and eating out. Researchers supervised the adults answering a questionnaire, with detailed sections on what they ate and where.

The study found that home-cooked dinners were associated with a "greater dietary compliance," meaning the overall weekly diet met more of the federal guidelines for a healthy diet. Households who cooked at home about three times per week showed a score of about 67 on the Healthy Eating Index. Those who cooked at home about six times per week had a score of about 74.

"The differences were significant, even with a relatively small study sample," said Drewnowski, also a professor of epidemiology.

Don't feel bad if you don't have time to cook at home every night. Researchers understand.

Drewnowski realizes that some people in the United States suffer from what epidemiologists call "time poverty."

Roughly half of all food dollars in the United States are spent outside the home, which suggests that cooking at home may not be feasible for a large chunk of the population.

Public health nutritionists suggests that efforts to promote cooking at home should be balanced with efforts to encourage retailers and restaurants to offer healthy, less expensive prepared foods for easy purchase outside of the home.

Other measures of food consumption use calories instead of dollars. The contribution of away-from-home food to total calories rose from 18 percent in the 1970s to 32 percent by the late 1990s, according to the study. Only one in five U.S. residents meets the dietary guidelines set by the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture.

What was surprising to Drewnowski was that the study showed there was no increase in costs for eating a healthier diet. Home cooked meals were associated with diets lower in calories, sugar and fat, but not with higher monthly expenses for food.

One other message of the study was that some common assumptions are wrong about income and education. The study showed no association between income or education and eating at home or eating out. The 437 people chosen for the study were a stratified random sample.

"People have the preconception that a lower income leads to eating more fast foods, but that was not true in our study," Drewnowski said. People who cooked more often at home were likely to have larger households with more children in them.

One of the limitations on the study was that people had to remember everything they ate in the past week, and perhaps some memories are not perfect. But he pointed out that almost all nutritional research is done using self-reported information.

The message of healthier-doesn't-cost-more is one he is sharing immediately with students in his Nutrition 303 class, where one of the assignments is to carefully pencil out how much your typical dinner costs.

"There's a lot of ramen," he joked, in regard to homework papers.
Other authors on the study were Arpita Tiwari, a pre-doctoral student at Oregon State University; Anju Aggarwal, acting assistant professor of epidemiology at the UW and Wesley Tang, a medical student.

The project was supported by a National Institutes of Health grant for the Seattle Obesity Study.

University of Washington Health Sciences/UW Medicine

Related Public Health Articles:

The Lancet Public Health: Study estimates mental health impact of welfare reform, Universal Credit, in Great Britain
The 2013 Universal Credit welfare reform appears to have led to an increase in the prevalence of psychological distress among unemployed recipients, according to a nationally representative study following more than 52,000 working-age individuals from England, Wales, and Scotland over nine years between 2009-2018, published as part of an issue of The Lancet Public Health journal on income and health.
BU researchers: Pornography is not a 'public health crisis'
Researchers from the Boston University School of Public Health (BUSPH) have written an editorial in the American Journal of Public Health special February issue arguing against the claim that pornography is a public health crisis, and explaining why such a claim actually endangers the health of the public.
The Lancet Public Health: Ageism linked to poorer health in older people in England
Ageism may be linked with poorer health in older people in England, according to an observational study of over 7,500 people aged over 50 published in The Lancet Public Health journal.
Study: Public transportation use linked to better public health
Promoting robust public transportation systems may come with a bonus for public health -- lower obesity rates.
Bloomberg American Health Initiative releases special public health reports supplement
With US life expectancy now on the decline for two consecutive years, the Bloomberg American Health Initiative is releasing a supplement to Public Health Reports, the scholarly journal of the US Surgeon General.
Data does the heavy lifting: Encouraging new public health approaches to promote the health benefits of muscle-strengthening exercise (MSE)
According to a new study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, almost 75 percent of US adults do not comply with public health guidelines recommending two or more muscle-strengthening exercise (MSE) sessions a week, with nearly 60 percent of the population doing no MSE at all.
The Lancet Public Health: Moderate carbohydrate intake may be best for health
Low-carb diets that replace carbohydrates with proteins and fats from plant sources associated with lower risk of mortality compared to those that replace carbohydrates with proteins and fat from animal sources.
Mass. public safety, public health agencies collaborate to address the opioid epidemic
A new study shows that public health and public safety agencies established local, collaborative programs in Massachusetts to connect overdose survivors and their personal networks with addiction treatment, harm reduction, and other community support services following a non-fatal overdose.
Cyber attacks can threaten public health
Gordon and Landman have authored a Perspective piece in the New England Journal of Medicine that addresses the growing threat of attacks on information systems and the potential implications on public health.
Public health guidelines aim to lower health risks of cannabis use
Canada's Lower-Risk Cannabis Use Guidelines, released today with the endorsement of key medical and public health organizations, provide 10 science-based recommendations to enable cannabis users to reduce their health risks.
More Public Health News and Public Health Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

There's so much we've yet to explore–from outer space to the deep ocean to our own brains. This hour, Manoush goes on a journey through those uncharted places, led by TED Science Curator David Biello.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#556 The Power of Friendship
It's 2020 and times are tough. Maybe some of us are learning about social distancing the hard way. Maybe we just are all a little anxious. No matter what, we could probably use a friend. But what is a friend, exactly? And why do we need them so much? This week host Bethany Brookshire speaks with Lydia Denworth, author of the new book "Friendship: The Evolution, Biology, and Extraordinary Power of Life's Fundamental Bond". This episode is hosted by Bethany Brookshire, science writer from Science News.
Now Playing: Radiolab

Dispatch 1: Numbers
In a recent Radiolab group huddle, with coronavirus unraveling around us, the team found themselves grappling with all the numbers connected to COVID-19. Our new found 6 foot bubbles of personal space. Three percent mortality rate (or 1, or 2, or 4). 7,000 cases (now, much much more). So in the wake of that meeting, we reflect on the onslaught of numbers - what they reveal, and what they hide.  Support Radiolab today at