Cooking classes 'a boost to healthy diet'

image captionClasses included information on budgeting, nutrition and cooking simple meals

Short cooking classes can have a long-term impact on healthy eating, a study suggests.

Questioning of parents who took part in government-funded courses in Scotland showed they ate more fruit and vegetables and fewer ready meals a year later.

Participants were also more confident about following a simple recipe.

The University of Glasgow researchers said refresher courses would boost the effects further.

There are numerous locally-funded programmes to improve cooking and nutrition skills around the UK but, until now, there has been little data on any long-term effects.

The study looked at courses lasting between four and eight weeks for parents of pre-school children.

Classes included information on budgeting, nutrition and cooking simple meals.

Questionnaires filled in immediately after the courses showed an immediate boost in participants' confidence in cooking, preparing and trying new foods, researchers reported in the journal Public Health Nutrition.

But the researchers were more interested in whether these effects remained months down the line.

Cooking confidence

A year later, 44 of 100 cookery class attendees agreed to be interviewed again and researchers found there was still a significant increase in their confidence in following simple recipes and using basic ingredients.

They also found that participants were eating fewer ready meals than before the courses, and were eating portions of fruit and vegetables daily compared with just a few times a week before.

Some of the "confidence scores" in cooking and trying new foods had slipped after a year and the researchers said refresher courses would be useful.

Study leader Dr Ada Garcia said that, although the study numbers were small due to difficulties in re-contacting people after a year, the results showed that such programmes had a measurable effect on people's diets.

"It is very encouraging that we have these positive results," she said.

"This suggests that the intervention has benefited participants' eating habits and health not only in the short-term, but also in the long-term," she added.

Prof Alan Maryon-Davis, former president of the Faculty of Public Health, said more research, including a controlled trial, should be the next step.

"Budgets are being cut and local authorities are not going to fund stuff unless its been shown to be effective. But this is pretty encouraging."

He added: "It is particularly important to get these changes happening in young families."

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