PHRC Phase 2 (2011-2019) projects – Projects related to diet and obesity

Research to support the evaluation and implementation of adult cooking skills interventions in the UK: Phase 1

Principal investigator

Professor Martin White, Programme Lead for Food behaviours and public health interventions, Centre for Diet and Activity Research (CEDAR), MRC Epidemiology Unit,
University of Cambridge


The growing obesity epidemic in the UK demands interventions to reduce the significant current and future burden to society resulting from health, social and economic outcomes. Obesity is caused by excess energy intake over energy expenditure, resulting from either excess calorie consumption, insufficient physical activity or both. Such physiological imbalance is, in turn, dependent on highly complex environmental mechanisms that promote excessive eating or inadequate physical activity at all levels of society and in all settings.

Anecdotal evidence suggests there has been a deskilling of the UK adult population over the last two to three decades with respect to culinary abilities, in particular resulting in a cohort of adults, many of whom are unable to cook meals from raw ingredients (‘from scratch’). Recently, a number of interventions have been developed to address this skills gap, most notably Jamie Oliver’s ‘Ministry of Food’. Such interventions typically involve adult group cooking classes, devoted to imparting the knowledge and skills necessary to cook basic meals from scratch. However, such interventions are at a relatively early stage of development from an empirical and theoretical point of view, with little analysis of their theoretical basis, few rigorous outcome evaluations or translational studies and no systematic review evidence to support their wider implementation.

Nevertheless, such interventions may have the potential for a significant population impact, have received widespread approval from the public and may gain favour politically as a potentially valuable contribution to tackling the obesity epidemic.

The Department of Health commissioned a systematic mapping and evidence synthesis of adult cooking schools from the EPPI Centre, which was published in July 2011. The protocol for this review provided a more detailed background to theory and research on adult cooking skills, to underpin this study.

In this study, we undertook initial research lasting three months (May-July 2011) to scope the range of current adult cooking skills interventions in England and identify suitable examples that might form the subject of a definitive outcome evaluation.

See also details of the subsequent Phase 2 research, which can be found here.


01/05/2011 - 31/08/2011 (Phase 1)