World Mental Health Day 2006

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In 2006, we ran a campaign raising awareness about the connection between meals, mealtimes and mental health.

We conducted a survey entitled Making a Meal of it, looking into the UK population’s cooking and mealtime habits. The research showed that getting together to eat with friends and families is positive for a person’s mental health.

What we found

How often do people get together for mealtimes?
  • Almost half of those surveyed (45%) go to a friend or family member’s home for a meal just a few times a year, if at all.
    Only 11% went once a week.
  • People do eat together more often in their own homes – 50% sit down with their family or housemates at a table three or more times a week.
Do men and women’s cooking habits differ?
  • The survey showed a marked difference between the sexes. Nearly twice as many men (13%) than women (7%) have never tried to cook a meal from scratch.
  • When it comes down to cooking for other people, almost twice as many women (31%) than men (16%) cook for others on a frequent basis.
How did people pick up their cooking skills?
  • A higher number of men (64%) than women (49%) say they taught themselves to cook while nearly 50%of women said they learnt from their parents.
  • Overall, most people say they are self-taught (47%), followed by learning from parents (41%). 
  • When asked whether they could cook a meal from scratch when they left home, only 1 in 5 said they had not been able to.
Are parents teaching their children to cook and eating with them?
  • Less than half (45%) of people surveyed said that their children regularly get involved in helping out three or more times a week.
  • A significant proportion, nearly a third (30%) only put on their assistant chef’s hat a few times a year.
  • Almost half of the respondents (46%) with children eat together with their children five times or more each week. Almost a quarter of parents (24%) eat with their children 3-4 times a week, while 15% responded that they eat together as a family just a few times a month at most.
And what are people’s attitudes towards cooking and eating?
  • Almost two thirds of respondents (61%) find cooking enjoyable while almost a third (30%) see it as something that has to be done. Only 9% view cooking as boring or a nightmare.
  • It seems physical health and weight are the primary motivators for people to adopt a healthy approach to eating.  Women at 37% are slightly more motivated by weight than men at 27%, while men (50%) are slightly more motivated by physical health than women (47%).

Dr Andrew McCulloch, Chief Executive of the Mental Health Foundation said:

“Getting together to prepare and share food with good company can provide social and psychological benefits that are positive for a person’s mental health. Mealtimes are important because they provide an excellent opportunity for people to socialise and connect, to share anxieties, have them listened to and hear other perspectives. For young people in particular, sitting down at mealtimes can play a significant part in psychological growth and development.”

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