By Darren Fife, IPHE
There is no question that food preparation skills are an important part of healthy eating. Unfortunately, in recent decades we’ve moved from home-cooked meals to prepacked ultra-processed foods. Adolescents do not receive adequate food skills before they reach adulthood and we’re surrounded by a food environment that promotes poor food choices. We live in a province where 60% of adults and 31% of children are overweight or obese; nutrition-related chronic disease associated with weight gain, like diabetes and heart disease are drastically afflicting more and more Manitobans. To improve the health status of Manitobans, home economics-nutrition and food skills (HENFS) education must be a mandatory component of the Manitoba high school curriculum.
When you think of home economics you may picture a cat-eyed glasses-wearing Stepford Wife who can make an unbelievably perfect pie crust. For some, home economics is viewed as an outdated course that doesn’t have a place in today’s society. Food skills are thought to be ‘common sense’ which lessens the need for a formal education in HENFS. Fewer and fewer Manitoba schools offer HENFS classes and its ‘elective’ status makes it prone to being cut from a school’s course offerings. In fact, a 2013 study by Slater & colleagues determined that only 7.61% of grade 12 students in Manitoba are enrolled in HENFS classes. Moreover, many young people are not learning basic skills within the home because of changing social norms. With poor food skills, young adults are more likely to choose foods options that require little food skill to prepare, like prepacked and ultra-processed foods.
The transition from adolescence to young adulthood presents a dramatic change in lifestyle behaviours in which many young adults have difficulties engaging in healthful behaviours. An emerging trend known as ‘#adulting’ is where young adults give themselves credit for completing mundane tasks, like separating their coloured clothes before washing or cooking a meal without catching fire; as if “avoiding a kitchen fire” is the highest expectation of “a cook”. Manitoban home economics teachers are shocked by the poor level of food skills among their students. A teacher comments in the 2013 Slater study:
“…when I first started out, the student was the exception who didn’t know basic operation in the kitchen. And now, it’s coming around where kids that have good solid skills in the kitchen stand out.”
If the poor state of food skills among young adults isn’t bad enough, we are also drowning in a food environment that promotes the consumption of ultra-processed food. Think for a moment: how far would have to travel from your home before you could find something to eat? “Something to eat” is never far away and it’s even more difficult to make good food choices when we are surrounded by poor ones. A 2011 study by Laska & colleagues that found individuals aged 18-23 find it difficult to create nutritious meals regularly and suggesting that engaging adolescents in food preparation activities may increase the likelihood that they will continue developing their food skills as they transition from their parents’ home into their individual lifestyles. Mandatory HENFS classes will give young adults the skills and knowledge they need to make informed decisions in many food environments. This has the potential to improve their dietary consumption, and ultimately decrease the risk for developing a chronic disease later in life.
Food and nutrition competencies in the home saves time, saves money, and promotes good health. Our neighbors in New Brunswick have noticed the need for home economic education; the New Brunswick Medical Society’s top suggestion to improve the health New Brunswickers would be for mandatory HENFS education! Our province is taking a step in the right direction: HENFS curriculum has recently been under review with hopes to reflect current food skills and nutrition knowledge. We should take this one step further and implement mandatory home economics-nutrition and food skills for all adolescents. By instilling these basic skills for living in our youth, we will create significant health outcomes for all Manitobans.
Laska, M. N., Larson, N. I., Neumark-Sztainer, D., & Story, M. (2011). Does involvement in food preparation track from adolescence to young adulthood and is it associated with better dietary quality? Findings from a 10-year longitudinal study. Public Health Nutrition,15(07), 1150-1158. doi:10.1017/s1368980011003004
Lichtenstein, A. H. (2010). Bring Back Home Economics Education. Jama,303(18), 1857-1858. doi:10.1001/jama.2010.592
Slater, J. (2013). Is cooking dead? The state of Home Economics Food and Nutrition education in a Canadian province. International Journal of Consumer Studies,37(6), 617-624. doi:10.1111/ijcs.12042
Ten-year education plan submission. (2015, October 15). Retrieved February 23, 2017, from http://www.nbms.nb.ca/leadership-and-advocacy/helping-new-brunswickers-live-healthier-lives/ten-year-education-plan-submission/
Yu, B. N., Protudjer, J. L., Anderson, K., & Fieldhouse, P. (2010). Weight Status and Determinants of Health: In Manitoba Children and Youth. Canadian Journal of Dietetic Practice and Research,71(3), 115-121. doi:10.3148/71.3.2010.115
Darren is a first year education student at the University of Manitoba practicing Human Ecology. He was in Sligo, Ireland in March to present his nutrition practicum project “The Kent Road Food Club” at the International Federation for Home Economics. Darren is an aspiring professional home economist who is enrolled in MAHE’s IPHE program under the guidance of Sheila Stark.