(Natural News) Teaching children the basics of gardening and food production may stem childhood obesity, according to a recent study published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior. To carry out the study, a team of researchers from the University of California, Davis examined more than 400 children aged nine to 10 years old at four schools in California. The children were stratified into two groups: one that received gardening lessons, and the control group.
The study was conducted under the Shaping Healthy Choices Programme, which instructed children to grow and harvest their own vegetables. The produce were then used in cooking demonstrations or were taken home. The school canteens were also instructed to use produce grown from the gardens, which were then featured in newsletters that were sent home to the children’s families.
According to the study, children who enrolled in a gardening class were more likely to shed pounds within a year. The research team also found that schools with gardening classes had lower proportion of obese students. The researchers inferred that gardening lessons may help curb obesity in children by teaching them about healthy foods such as fresh vegetables.
“The BMI and waist-to-height ratio were greatly improved in intervention groups, with the overweight or obese population declining from 55.6 to 37.8 percent at the Northern California intervention school. The dramatic decrease in BMI, although unexpected in this short time frame, demonstrated that the SHCP was effective due to positive health messages and reinforcing nutrition concepts throughout the school and home environments,” said lead author Dr Rachel Scherr in Daily Mail.
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Studies show the importance of gardening against childhood obesity
A 2013 study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine revealed that a community gardening initiative resulted in a significant decrease in obesity rates among low-income Hispanic American children. The intervention, called Growing Healthy Kids Program, involved a weekly gardening session, a seven-week cooking and nutrition workshop, and social events for both children and parents. As part of the study, the researchers assessed pre- and post-program height and weight data from 95 children aged two to 15 years.
The research team found that 17 percent of overweight and obese children attained significant improvements in BMI classification. The study also revealed that 100 percent of children with a normal BMI at the start of the study were able to maintain their weight after the initiative. In addition, the availability of fresh fruits and vegetables grew by 146 percent following the gardening program. Furthermore, the researchers noted an increase in the children’s fruit and vegetable consumption.
“Findings from this pilot study are consistent with previous studies reporting an increase in availability and consumption of fruits and vegetables among families participating in community gardens. Although there are limitations because this is a pilot study, this strategy seems to be promising for addressing childhood obesity, particularly among low-income Latino immigrant families,” the researchers wrote.
In another study, researchers found that lack of access to gardens may increase the odds of childhood obesity. To carry out the study, a team of researchers from the VU University Medical Centre, Amsterdam, the Netherlands pooled data from the Millennium Cohort Study with a total cohort population of 19,000 children. The research team found that children who did not have an access to gardens between the ages five and seven years were 38 percent more likely to become obese by age seven. Living in a disadvantaged neighborhood and having a lower educated household were also found to raise the odds of childhood obesity. The researchers also noted that children belonging to higher educated households living in disadvantaged neighborhood were still at an increased risk of childhood obesity.
The findings were presented at the annual meeting of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes.