A study published in Public Health Nutrition suggests that people who often cook meals at home may have a better overall diet. However, the researchers also found that cooking at home and diet quality differs between high- and low-income populations.

The researchers used the Healthy Eating Index (HEI)—a measure of diet quality used to assess how well foods align with recommendations of the U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans—and data collected from the 2007 to 2010 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Specifically, the researchers examined data from two 24-hour dietary recalls completed by 8,668 adults aged 20 and older. The HEI score ranges from 0 to 100, with higher scores indicating better diet quality.

The researchers found that of the participants, 13% lived in households where someone cooked dinner 0–2 times per week, 21% lived in households where someone cooked dinner 3–4 times per week, 31% lived in households where someone cooked dinner 5–6 times per week, and 36% lived in households where someone cooked dinner seven times per week.

The data showed that those living in households where someone cooked at least three times per week had a higher total HEI score compared to those who only cooked at home twice per week or less often. In addition, compared with cooking 0–2 times per week, cooking dinner seven times per week resulted in a 2.96-point increase in HEI overall. However, the HEI score differed drastically depending on the socioeconomic status of the household. Lower-income households that cooked dinner seven times a week experienced a 2.68-point increase in the HEI, whereas those in a more affluent household had a 5.08-point increase.

The researchers noted that more research is needed to understand the potential systematic differences between income and healthy home cooking. “Helping more people cook healthy meals at home is a laudable goal, but it is not always feasible for everyone. More must be done to help ensure that all people, no matter how frequently they cook, or their level of income, are able to consume a healthy diet,” said lead author Julia Wolfson, assistant professor of health management and policy at the University of Michigan School of Public Health, in a university press release.


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