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Home economics classes could be a potent weapon in the war against obesity

May 11, 2010 |  1:01 pm

Bring back home ec.

That’s the radical idea advocated by two leaders of the fight against obesity, Alice Lichtenstein, a professor of nutrition science and policy at Tufts University, and Dr. David Ludwig, a pediatric endocrinologist at Children's Hospital Boston.

Homeec Their suggestion is not motivated by misplaced nostalgia for those junior high school lessons on how to make meatloaf and scalloped potatoes. Rather, they see home economics as an ideal vehicle for teaching one of the basic skills needed to ward off obesity – preparing healthful meals at home.

In its initial incarnation, home ec was based on the notion that “future homemakers should be educated in the care and feeding of their families,” Lichtenstein and Ludwig write in the recent issue of the Journal of the American Medical Assn. That lesson has clearly eluded many of today’s parents, considering that one-third of American teens are either overweight or obese. Many children raised on take-out food and frozen dinners have never seen their parents produce a meal from scratch; a school-based class would demystify the process.

A modern-day home ec course would emphasize ways of making nutritious foods at home out of simple, inexpensive ingredients, they said. Rather than shunning all types of prepackaged foods, students should learn how to take advantage of healthful ones, like pre-washed bagged salads.

In a perfect world, Lichtenstein and Ludwig write, children could teach their parents how to prepare healthful family meals. There is some precedent – after learning of the dangers of tobacco in schools, some kids nag their parents to quit. Besides, research shows that teens’ diets improve when they help prepare meals.

After all, the scientists write, “if children are raised to feel uncomfortable in the kitchen, they will be at a disadvantage for life.”

-- Karen Kaplan

Photo: Home economics should return to the standard high-school curriculum, according to two leaders in the fight against obesity. Credit: Rick Meyer/Los Angeles Times

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