School gardens can have a positive effect on children’s health, as well as the environment, joint research from Australian Catholic University and the University of Texas has found.
Researchers discovered that children who are involved with school gardens eat more fruit and vegetables. They also found that these children are willing to taste and cook a greater variety of fruit and vegetables and demonstrate improved behaviour both at home and in the classroom.
Researchers assessed 13 school garden programs in Australia and the United States to examine their impact on children’s dietary behaviours and to identify similar helpful strategies used in the programs. The programs were either conducted during school hours or in after-school settings for children ranging from kindergarten to year 8.
Of the 11 programs that examined dietary intake, six found that the program resulted in increased vegetable intake, whereas four showed no effect. Seven of the eight studies that measured the children’s preference found that the programs resulted in increased preference for vegetables. The studies also found that children involved in the programs had an improved attitude towards fruit and vegetables, could easily identify them and were more likely to taste and prepare or cook fruit and vegetables.
Some of the similar strategies used in the programs included ‘hands-on’ elements, including cooking components, food provision and support for parents and teachers.
ACU co-author Associate Professor Shawn Somerset, an expert in Nutrition and Public Health, said the research proved that school gardens have positive implications for sustainability, as well as children’s health.
“School gardens are a great model to integrate nutrition, environmental sustainability and education objectives,” Associate Professor Somerset said.
Further research was needed to understand how to achieve long-term improvements in dietary behaviours and how to sustain and develop the programs in schools, he said.
“Installing and using school gardens is not complicated, and many successful gardens have run purely on the energy of local school communities. Our study showed that international research in this area is sparse, but encouraging. Such community-based initiatives are highly cost-effective and can potentially yield a raft of long term health and wellbeing outcomes. They therefore deserve a far larger share of the national research budget.”
(Source: Australian Catholic University)