MedStar Health Investigates Utility of Teaching Kitchens to Improve Lifestyle Skills

Research from MedStar Institute for Innovation and the MedStar Lafayette Centre Internal Medicine used three Teaching Kitchen (TK) Shared Medical Appointment (SMA) programs to improve patients culinary and lifestyle skills in an effort to improve health habits. In 2017, Fresh and Savory, a Culinary and Lifestyle Medicine Teaching Kitchen program was implemented at MedStar Health as a Shared Medical Appointment. Alongside the portable Teaching Kitchen were physician consultations, interactive didactic presentations, nutritious cooking, and mind-body exercises.

The research was published in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. The research team was led by Renee Kakareka, BS, and included Theresa A. Stone, MD, FACP; Paul Plsek, MS; Anthony Imamura, BEnvD, AOS-Culinary Arts; and Ellie Hwang, MHA.

In the United States, 100 million people are overweight or obese. The study referenced that “about 80% of coronary heart disease, 90% of type 2 diabetes, and 33% of cancers, can be reversed or prevented with healthy lifestyle interventions (exercise, healthful eating habits, and smoking cessation).” MedStar researchers saw an opportunity to test the use of culinary and lifestyle medicine program to teach patients evidence-based lifestyle skills to determine if they reduce primary and secondary cardiovascular disease risk.

Two cohorts were recruited from Internal Medicine and Cardiology and completed an 8-week program. One sports performance cohort was recruited which included young, elite athletes completing a 4-week program. The Internal Medicine and Cardiology program included eight, two-hour sessions consisting of mind-body exercise and both didactic presentations and hands-on activities. The Sports Performance program consisted of four, two-hour sessions following a similar format as Internal Medicine/Cardiology but focused on an athlete’s nutrition and lifestyle.

Each week vitals (blood pressure, weight, heart rate) were collected. The physician and patient would then discuss the patient’s goals, progress, medications, and other medically relevant information during the two-hour session. One of the Internal Medicine/Cardiology cohorts were emailed electronic surveys which inquired about lifestyle behaviors over the past month at baseline and 7 days each week. The other Internal Medicine/Cardiology cohort and Sports Performance group filled out paper booklets, “Passports”, each week recording their goals, program feedback, and lecture notes.

There were 53 patients that participated in the three Teaching Kitchen SMA programs. During the program, the research team noted that change in patient vitals were statically insignificant, yet habit changes showed clinical significance. Patients noted increased knowledge of plant-based meals, importance of sleep, and adding mindfulness and exercise to their weekly routine.

In conclusion, the research proved patient demand for opportunities to develop healthy behaviors. Although, vital signs may not significantly improve, small habit changes may improve long-term health outcomes. Future studies will seek to correlate the influence of Teaching Kitchen Shared Medical Appointment programs and long-term behavior changes.

The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 2019. DOI: 10.1089/acm.2019.009