Adolescent cooking abilities and behaviors: Associations with nutrition and emotional well-being

Utter, Jennifer; Denny, Simon; Lucassen, Mathijs and Dyson, Ben (2016). Adolescent cooking abilities and behaviors: Associations with nutrition and emotional well-being. Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, 48(1) pp. 35–41.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jneb.2015.08.016

Abstract

Objective
To determine the relationship between cooking and selected indicators of diet quality, mental well-being, and family relationships.

Design
Data were collected as part of Youth’12, a nationally representative health and well-being survey.

Setting
Secondary schools in New Zealand.

Participants
A total of 8,500 students.

Main Outcome Measures
Cooking ability and frequency of cooking, nutritional behaviors, mental well-being, depressive symptoms, and family connections.

Analysis
Multiple regression analyses were conducted to examine the relationships between cooking ability/frequency and indicators of health and well-being, controlling for the sociodemographic characteristics of students.

Results
Approximately 80% of students reported that they can cook a meal from basic ingredients either fairly or very easily. Reported cooking ability was positively associated with better nutritional indicators, better mental health indicators, and stronger family connections (p = .01). For example, adolescents reporting the greatest cooking abilities were approximately twice as likely to meet the recommendations for fruits and vegetables (odds ratio, 2.1; 95% confidence interval, 1.6–2.8). Likewise, adolescents reporting the greatest cooking abilities also reported lower levels of depressive symptoms (p < .01) and greater mental well-being (p < .01) than those with less cooking ability. However, greater cooking ability was also associated with higher body mass index (p < .01). Overall, similar statistically significant relationships were observed with frequency of cooking, although not for young people who cook most days.

Conclusions and Implications
Learning to cook and having the opportunity to cook may provide a unique means for adolescents to develop life skills and contribute positively to their families. Future research examining the relationships between cooking and health may include measures beyond nutrition, such as social relationships and emotional well-being.

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