24th March 2010

Queensland University of Technology researchers are studying the food skills of today's eat-out generation.

QUT researcher and nutritionist Helen Vidgen, who is leading a $220,000 research project funded by Queensland Health, said professionals had noticed that people's food literacy - a combination of food choices, shopping and cooking - had declined.

"People's lack of food skills is getting in the way of them being able to make healthy food choices," Ms Vidgen said.

She said many young people were becoming "food illiterate" after seeing their parents outsource food preparation.

"People eat outside the home a lot more; they eat takeaway and they buy prepared food from the supermarket," said Ms Vidgen, a practising nutritionist for 15 years. "People are outsourcing cooking along with their ironing."

"You can still do this and be healthy but you need to understand what you're eating."

Ms Vidgen said food literacy was about "shopping for food, understanding what you're buying and your lifestyle so you can provide yourself with healthy food on a day-to-day basis".

Ms Vidgen said Queensland Health had asked QUT to study the food literacy of socially disadvantaged 16-26 year olds and how to improve them. The results of the two-year study were likely to have broader application.

The study is looking at what food skills people need to be healthy, how to measure them and how to influence them.

Ms Vidgen said lack of food skills could be contributing to spiralling rates of overweight and obesity, with 62 per cent of Queensland males and 51 percent of females overweight or obese in 2006, according to Queensland Health statistics.

Ms Vidgen said most worrying was the skyrocketing prevalence of obesity, up by 45 per cent between 2001 and 2006.

Ms Vidgen said nutritionists were encountering young mothers who did not know how to prepare food for their babies after themselves growing up on a diet of takeaway food or food eaten "on the run".

She said the results of the study would lead to a strategy to be trialled by the State Government.

Media contact: QUT media officer Elizabeth Allen on 07 3138 4494 or e1.allen@qut.edu.au

** A high res pic of Helen Vidgen is available

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