Comparison of individuals with low versus high consumption of home-prepared food in a group with universally high dietary quality: a cross-sectional analysis of the UK National Diet & Nutrition Survey (2008–2016)

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Clifford Astbury, Chloe 
Penney, Tarra L 
Adams, Jean 


            Despite inconclusive evidence, the idea that a lack of home food preparation and skills is a limiting factor in achieving a healthy diet is widespread. Cooking skills interventions proliferate, and several countries now mention cooking in their dietary guidelines. The aim of this study was to determine whether substantial consumption of home-prepared food is necessary for high dietary quality by exploring whether individuals can eat healthily while eating little home-prepared food. The diets of these individuals were characterised, and socio-demographic characteristics and prevalence of obesity were also explored.
            Cross-sectional analysis of UK dietary survey data with objectively measured height and weight and a 4-day food diary for each participant was conducted. A subsample (N = 1063, aged ≥19 years) with a high dietary quality (determined using a score derived from the Dietary Approaches to Stopping Hypertension (DASH) diet) was analysed. Within this, participants were grouped as either high or low home preparation based on the proportion of energy derived from home-prepared food. Regression models were used to determine whether and how those in the high and low home preparation groups differed in terms of socio-demographic characteristics, DASH score, energy intake, prevalence of obesity, and dietary composition.
            The low home preparation group included 442 participants, while 621 participants were in the high home preparation group. The low home preparation group were more likely to be older and white, and less likely to have a degree level education. After adjustment for socio-demographic characteristics, there were no differences in DASH score, energy intake or obesity prevalence between the groups. After adjustment, the low home preparation group consumed more fruit (30.8 additional g/day, 95% CI 5.5–56.1), more low-fat dairy foods (24.6 additional g/day, 95% CI 1.7–47.5) and less red meat (10.4 fewer g/day, 95% CI 4.3–16.6), but also more sugar (11.6 additional g/day, 95% CI 7.5–15.6) and sodium (107.8 additional mg/day, 95% CI 13.8–201.8).
            Home food preparation should not be presented as a prerequisite to a high quality diet. The public health community should recognise the existence of a set of food practices which allows individuals to achieve a healthy diet with little contribution from home-prepared food, and make space for it in the design of their policies and interventions.

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