Cooking classes in E. Ky. help residents, researchers find ways to overcome barriers that hinder healthy eating in rural areas

Almost 180 cooks in six Eastern Kentucky counties are learning about heart-healthy cooking at their local Cooperative Extension office, while also helping with dietary research, according to a University of Kentucky news release.

Mary Stevens of Jackson County attends heart-healthy
cooking classes with her mother Betty. (UK photo)

The program, Rural Eating and Healthy Cooking, allows REACH participants to plan and prepare heart-healthy meals and then take them home to their families for sampling. Recipes for the meals are made from the American Heart Association‘s official heart-healthy cookbook, of which each participant gets a free copy, are budget-friendly and are made with easily obtained ingredients.

The program is a collaboration between the UK’s College of Nursing and Department of Family and Consumer Sciences, which works with Extension agents. UK nursing professor Frances Hardin-Fanning, the principal investigator on the study, said she “hopes to gather valuable information about overcoming the various environmental barriers that hinder healthy eating in rural populations.”

“There are a lot of things beyond your ability to change,” Hardin-Fanning said of the difficulties people in rural communities can have with eating healthy diets. “But cooking healthy food at home is not one of them.”

West Liberty resident and program participant Bonnie Burton, whose husband is a cancer survivor and pre-diabetic, said she had already begun cutting sodium from their diet and reading nutrition labels, but since participating in the program has learned how to incorporate fresh herbs to boost the flavor of heart-healthy meals and said that she was surprised that her “meat-and-potatoes” husband liked the meatless, three-bean chili that they made in class. 

 “I know how to cook, but there’s always room for improvement,” Burton, 66, said.

The study will last 12 months. Trained interventionists provide health coaching for those in the experimental group, including: trying to identify barriers to healthy eating, regularly reviewing the participants’ healthy eating goals; regularly evaluating progress toward these goals; and offering motivation for improving eating habits. The participants are asked to provide their grocery receipts each month for measuring changes in their intake of fruits, vegetables and saturated fat.

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