food and health

Teaching kitchen: cooking to learn about…health

An active lifestyle and balanced diet are the foundations for good health, but theories aren’t enough. Everyone, doctors included, needs to “get their hands dirty” - at least in the kitchen.

Building a bridge between science and nutrition, attention to health and the culinary arts, is the Healthy Kitchens/Healthy Lives initiative launched in 2007 by Harvard University and the Culinary Institute of America (CIA). The project’s advocates include David M. Eisenberg, Associate Professor of nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, who presented the Teaching Kitchen Collaborative project at BCFN’s International Forum on Food and Nutrition, held in December 2016 in Milan.

Knowing about medicine isn’t enough
My father was a baker in Brooklyn and died of a heart attack on the cusp of 40 years of age. It was a terrible shock and perhaps also the impetus which pushed me to dedicate my life to studying medicine.” Professor Eisenberg’s presentation at the 7th BCFN Forum began with a personal note to then continue with a series of data on how lifestyle influences health. “Medicine has done a lot when it comes to cardiovascular-related deaths, but in recent years the decline in mortality has stopped”, explained the expert. He then continued: “The truth is that the benefits for the heart which derive from medicine have reached a saturation point and further advances will depend on changes in society and personal behaviour.” These types of changes are key to inverting the negative trend we’re seeing today: American children are the first in the nation’s history to have shorter life expectancy than their parents, and numbers relating to obesity are alarming, as are those on diabetes, which has quadrupled in the USA from 1980 to today. In other words, the great progress made in genetics and medicine could be overcome by the burden of disease, disability and death traceable to the fact that people simply eat too much and move too little in their lifetimes

From the stovetop to the patient
The science is clear: there is a relationship between time dedicated to food preparation and obesity. In addition, frequently making dinner at home is associated with a healthier diet, and eating home-cooked meals reduces the risk for diabetes. However, there’s one problem: it’s rare for doctors and food experts to exchange notes, information and ideas on how to work together towards the shared goal of health. “We believe the spread of Healthy Kitchens, Healthy Lives is essential. The project includes a series of conferences with the participation of chefs, doctors, nurses and dieticians where science was discussed and healthy - and tasty - recipes were created. With this approach, many health professionals came to understand that preparing such simple dishes is also fun”, Eisenberg explained, remembering that in these meetings they also discussed physical exercise and the relationship between food and the environment, with the invaluable support of the BCFN double pyramid.

Learning to have fun – in the kitchen
Yet all that still isn’t enough. “There still isn’t an approach which gathers all the scientific knowledge on the topic in an organic, fun way”, Eisenberg stated, adding, “Which is why the teaching kitchens were started, places where you can learn about healthy lifestyles through full immersion.” Numerous centres already have such programmes in place, though they remain separate and without the possibility of sharing their most effective methods. In 2016, the Teaching Kitchen Collaborative was launched to gather 26 of the main organisations currently using a teaching-kitchen-type model. Their representatives meet twice a year to share their experiences and determine what works and what doesn’t. They then evaluate the teaching models used among different groups (workers, students, patients) to establish a research network which evaluates their impact and return on investment.

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