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Young Adults Who Learn How to Cook Eat More Veggies

Aug. 12, 2022 – “Watch what you eat” is a common refrain, but a new study shows that eating what you watch can be an effective way to improve a person’s diet.

Researchers in Kentucky found that college students who set weight loss goals and watched how-to cook videos ate more fruits and vegetables over time.

Obesitygreatly increases the risk for many diseases and is often a problem in young adults, who often choose fast food and other less healthy options, says Carol S. O’Neal, PhD, an associate professor at the University of Louisville and lead author of the study.

Earlier research has shown that what’s known as social cognitive theory, which says we all are influenced by our environment, and goal-setting to improve health can improve young adults’ eating habits. But adding video technology as a new education tool has not been well studied, O’Neal and colleagues wrote in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior.

Methods and Results

In the study, 138 college students ages 18 to 40 took part in a 15-week course at a large metropolitan university. The course included lectures on health topics, such as carbohydrates, and included skill-based activities, such as how to read an ingredient list. The students and instructors then discussed how these skills could lead to healthier eating and help them meet nutrition goals, such as eating more whole grains.

A total of 77 students completed the study in-person, and 61 took part online. The majority (59%) were college sophomores, 74% were white, and 82% were female.

Students took weekly food challenges to use what they’d learned about how to develop better eating habits and behaviors. Along with the challenges, students watched cooking videos related to each week’s topic, such as how to make overnight oats for the healthy carbohydrates/whole grains week.

Students also selected two goals each week – such as choosing whole-grain foods to increase fiber, using smaller plates for portion control, choosing unsalted nuts for snack foods, or adding a salad to a meal – from a list of 10-15 goals. The idea was to set goals that were specific, measurable, realistic, and time-limited. They also wrote weekly reflections to track their progress.

The main results were eating more fruits and vegetables, improved cooking and healthy eating, and improved attitudes about healthy cooking and eating. The researchers surveyed the students to see if these outcomes were met.

Students in the study said they met the goal of eating at least five servings of fruits and vegetables per day more often than before, the researchers said.

By the end of the course, the students showed significant increases in how many fruits and vegetables they ate, and in their own belief that they could eat more produce, cook, and use more fruits, vegetables, and seasonings rather than salt in cooking.

In their written reflections, the students showed positive changes in their behavior, such as planning meals before shopping, preparing meals in advance on weekends, taking lunch to school, and using herbs and spices, the researchers noted.

“This model could be used to address a variety of health outcomes in dietetics, health education, and community health programs,” O’Neal says. “I see time as a main barrier, but this barrier could be reduced for populations who are able to use online learning. Our intervention was successful for in-person and online learning.”

Use in the Real World

“For consumers, the real-world implications are exciting,” says M. Susan Jay, MD, of the Medical College of Wisconsin.

“People are healthy attempting to eat healthy, and despite clinicians wanting eating, limited office visits may not be conducive to behavioral change,” she says.

The study was important as a way to identify ways to improve the diet and nutrition of young adults, says Margaret Thew, DNP, a nurse practitioner and medical director of adolescent medicine at the University of Wisconsin.

That the study led to students eating more fruits and vegetables is not surprising, as the students in the study may have been more highly motivated to improve their diets, Thew says. But she was surprised to see the significant improvement in cooking attitudes after the intervention.

“This tells me that we need to offer more opportunities to educate young adults on how to cook to improve diet outcomes,” she says.

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