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  • Reality cooking shows could be a powerful weapon against obesity

    Author: AAP

Rosemary Stanton says MasterChef has done much to get kids into the kitchen and now a Sydney academic suggests cooking shows could be used to fight obesity.

Forget a sugar tax, reality cooking shows could be a powerful weapon against obesity.

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Viewership of celebrity chef shows in Australia is high. And there's a belief they inform, educate and entertain audiences through vicarious experiences related to the pleasures of cooking and consumption of food.

Leading Australian nutritionist and dietitian Rosemary Stanton, for one, is a big fan of MasterChef for what it promotes - getting people back into the kitchen cooking fresh produce.

In terms of potential impact, the series two finale of the show in 2010 became at the time the most-watched non-sporting program on TV since the beginning of ratings.


Reetica Rekhy, who just completed a PhD at the University of Sydney, says health policy makers should look at harnessing this power in a bid to reduce obesity and the burden of disease it causes.

Currently in Australia, 63 per cent of adults are either overweight or obese and only seven per cent consume the recommended two to eight serves of vegetables.

Ms Rekhy, from the university's School of Life and Environmental Sciences, says her research shows celebrity cooking shows offer an opportunity to influence healthy consumer dietary habits in terms of higher vegetable use and consumption in home cooking.

An online survey of approximately 500 NSW respondents was undertaken by Ms Rekhy and colleagues to examine the impact of celebrity cooking shows on consumer intentions and vegetable consumption.

Respondents watched programs focused on the use of vegetables - including an episode of Huey's Kitchen that involved cooking a cauliflower curry - and completed a series of questionnaires asking them about their vegetable eating habits.

In comparison to the control group, a greater percentage of participants claimed they were 'likely' or 'very likely' to use vegetables after watching the cooking show clips.

Forty four per cent of the experimental group said they intended trying new ways of preparing meals, compared with 29 per cent in the control group.

However, exposure to the video-clip did not translate into higher vegetable consumption.

This suggests positive reinforcement of health messaging is an important component of behaviour change, rather than a single prompting of an idea, said Ms Rekhy.

"Linking public health experts with celebrity chefs would be a good idea," she said.

Just how big an impact cooking show interventions could have is unknown but Dr Stanton agrees we should take advantage of their popularity.

"It's one thing that MasterChef has done, it's made kids prepared to go into the kitchen," Dr Stanton told AAP.

She says the more people involved in food preparation, especially because of the busy lives people lead, the healthier they will eat.

"It's too much for one person to do if they have full time job," Dr Stanton said.


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