University of Vermont

Kolodinsky and Goldstein Publish Big Finding on Obesity

Preparing food in the home may help decrease BMI in overweight Americans

A commentary in the Journal of the American Medical Association last May suggested that bringing back Home Economics—material which covers the matter of purchasing and preparing food with raw ingredients in the home—might help in the fight against obesity. A recent academic article published in Nature's Obesity journal by UVM Community Development and Applied Economics Chair Jane Kolodinsky and research associate Amanda Goldstein provides evidence to support that idea. Kolodinsky and Goldstein reported findings that contribute to the relationship between Americans’ time use patterns, food-related behaviors and body mass index (BMI). 

Obesity has become a health risk epidemic in the second half of the 20th and beginning of the 21st centuries.  Since the 1960’s the percentage of adults between the ages of 20 and 74 that is obese has nearly tripled, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. We’ve even stopped calling Type II Diabetes “Adult Onset Diabetes” due to such obesity-related diseases pervading every age group, causing Type II Diabetes to be common enough in children to merit the name change.

The work of Kolodinsky and Goldstein is a step in a productive direction for obesity research. “[Our article highlights] the need to analyze healthy weight and overweight people separately. Most other studies use BMI as a continuous variable, but they are distinct populations and should be treated as such.”

By analyzing such weight groups separately, BMI highs and lows can be more accurately attributed to behaviors and lifestyle choices, since BMI takes into account more than just weight, but also height and age.

Simply put, they found that athletic activity, one's share of food eaten at home, job, social life — things that one might think would have an effect on BMI within overweight groups — have little to no effect; however, time spent preparing food was shown to be a significant predictor of BMI. Their findings reinforce what many nutritionists and dieticians might recommend to their clients: it is important to learn how to cook and to keep cooking at home if you want to affect your BMI.

“I think the significance of the article is that we've also highlighted the importance of food preparation and taking time to cook meals,” Goldstein reflects, acknowledging that she infers that longer time spent in food preparation might mean using and consuming more fresh, raw ingredients. “Learning those behaviors at a young age and/or passing that knowledge (healthy eating and cooking) along generational lines is necessary to curb the obesity epidemic, especially childhood obesity.”