An evaluation by Deakin University of Jamie Oliver's Ministry of Food program in Ipswich, Queensland, has shown the 10-week program increased participants' daily vegetable consumption, cooking confidence, and ability to prepare meals from scratch. Furthermore, the increases were sustained six months after completion of the program.
The research commissioned by The Good Foundation, which runs the program in Australia, is the first robust evaluation of Jamie's Ministry of Food in Australia and Britain. The evaluation showed strong evidence the community cooking program increased confidence in key skill areas required for cooking and daily food preparation. Six months since the completion of the program, participants' daily vegetable consumption had increased by more than one half serve (0.52 serves) since the program start.
The finding also showed the flow-on effects increased cooking confidence, including increased frequency of families eating together and reduction in takeaway meal consumption.
Jamie's Ministry of Food, developed by the UK-based celebrity chef, aims to combat obesity and diet-related disease by increasing participants' cooking confidence and knowledge of healthy eating. It offers a 10-week course of 90-minute classes where participants learn how to prepare and cook a variety of dishes, how to budget and shop for fresh ingredients, and the importance of good nutrition.
The program has been running in Britain since 2008. The Ministry of Food Ipswich centre opened in April 2011 and is partially funded by the state government. Participants pay $10 per class or $5 for concession-card holders.
Oliver says the positive findings from the study are the best news he's had all year.
"I can go back to the Aussie government and Aussie private businesses and say 'guys, this works'," says Oliver, speaking from London. "This program is a good use of resource and it needs to be a part of every single strategy package that gets put together nationally and locally."
"The biggest killers in Australia today are from diet-related disease," he says. "It is sadly a time where one has to be reactive and I'm massively passionate about local people teaching local people and about what creates sustainable change and really makes a difference. Not the bullshit, not the philosophy, but what's a good use of private and public cash."
The research was headed by Boyd Swinburn, professor of population nutrition and global health at the University of Auckland and director of the World Health Organisation Collaborating Centre for Obesity Prevention at Deakin University in Melbourne. He says increasing people's vegetable consumption is difficult.
"Half a serve per day might sound trivial but in effect it is not. It has a significant effect on reducing things associated with low-vegetable intake like heart disease and cancer. For a 10-week program to achieve that and sustain it is, I think, pretty good value for money."
Professor Swinburn says he has performed quite a few similar program evaluations in the past and had never seen anything as incredibly consistent as the Ministry of Food findings. He points to Oliver's celebrity status as one of the reasons for the program's success.
"Jamie Oliver has an edge on other cooking programs because he has a very strong name and brand," he says.
There is another Ministry of Food centre in Geelong, Victoria, and plans to open centres in South Australia and NSW later in the year. To date, 14,411 people have enrolled in the program in Australia.