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.