Childhood obesity starts in the kitchen. Or rather, it starts with fewer parents spending time to cook with their kids, according to new research published in the The Centers For Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Preventing Chronic Disease: Public Health Research, Practice and Policy.

"It is important to expose children to healthy foods in a positive way," said Derek Hersch, the lead author of the study who also works with a cooking education program called Food Explorers at the Minnesota Heart Institute Foundation, in a press release. "Creating habits and behaviors at this age is the most important part of it." Early exposure is key for kids to develop healthy eating habits.

Hersch and his team analyzed eight existing studies focusing on cooking education programs (CDP). Similar to cooking classes you would take as an adult, CDPs teach children about new healthy foods, how to prepare them, and the recommended daily serving of certain foods, such as fruits and vegetables. Since each study was conducted differently, Hersch admitted he couldn’t arrive at strong conclusions. There were, however, obvious trends.

Children between the ages of 5 and 12 enrolled in a CDP increased their consumption of fruits, vegetables, and dietary fiber; their confidence in food prep; and a general willingness to try new foods. If not enrolled in a CDP, kids can reap these same benefits in the comfort of their own home. In fact, cooking at home has the added bonus of comfort. “Children are more comfortable at home, which makes them more receptive to new foods because they will make the connection to a positive experience,” Hersch said.

In conducting the present study, Hersch found there’s no other research studying the long-term effects of CDPs, or whether children are more likely to reach for the kale chips over the cookies into adulthood. There's also little evidence CDPs impact children’s nutritional attitudes and the likelihood they’ll be obese. Hersch explained, “these limitations likely result from the fact that cooking programs want to focus their limited resources on their children, rather than publishing their research.”

There has, however, been research published on the benefits of home-cooked meals. Studies show families who eat together consume less calories and more nutrients. And Medical Daily previously reported on a survey by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, which found teens whose families ate together frequently were less likely to use alcohol, drugs, and cigarettes.

Maybe the jury is still out on the long-term benefits of CDPs, but there's no denying that the more time parents spend instilling healthy lifestyle habits in their children, the greater advantage they'll have when it comes to making healthy decisions.

Source: Hersch D. Preventing Chronic Disease: Public Health Research, Practice and Policy, 2014.