Socioeconomics and good nutrition

Wednesday, 14 June, 2017

About half the money spent on eating in the US goes on food cooked outside the home — indeed, the home-cooked calories consumed fell from 82% to 68% between the 1970s and the late 1990s. How is this affecting nutritional intake?

Better socioeconomic status is usually assumed to equate to better nutrition but this is not necessarily the case. A study by Arpita Tiwari, a health systems researcher at Oregon State University, and collaborators at the University of Washington has concluded that it’s not spending more but how you spend that is important.

“Cooking at home reduces that expenditure, and our research empirically quantifies that when we regularly eat dinner at home, our nutrition intake is better,” insists Tiwari.

The research involved more than 400 Seattle-area adults who were surveyed regarding a week’s worth of cooking and eating behaviours. Participants also provided various types of sociodemographic information, and their weekly food intake was graded using the Healthy Eating Index (HEI). HEI scores range from 0 to 100, with higher scores indicating better diet quality. An index score over 81 indicates a ‘good’ diet; 51 to 80 means ‘needs improvement’; and 50 or less is ‘poor’.

Households that cooked at home three times per week showed an average score of about 67 on the HEI; cooking at home six times per week resulted in an average score of around 74.

The study showed no association between income or education and eating at home or eating out. The findings also suggested that regularly eating home-cooked dinners, associated with diets lower in calories, sugar and fat, meant meeting more of the guidelines for a healthy diet as determined by the Department of Agriculture.

The National Institutes of Health supported this research. Findings were published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

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