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Gardening interventions improve metabolic parameters in youth

A follow-up to a Texas Sprouts gardening intervention found improved glucose control and reduced low-density lipoprotein cholesterol in individuals at a high risk of metabolic diseases.

School-based gardening interventions may improve metabolic parameters in children, according to a recent study.

The prevalence of obesity among US children has increased from 5% in 1978 to 19.3% in 2018. Low socioeconomic status is associated with an increased risk of childhood obesity, while Hispanic ethnicity is associated with an increased risk of obesity-related metabolic diseases such as type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome.

An increase in fruit and vegetable (FV) intake lessens the risk of developing metabolic diseases, but most children in the United States do not meet the recommended daily FV intake. FV intake is lowest among children with low-socioeconomic status and obesity.

To improve FV intake among children and reduce the prevalence of metabolic diseases, evidence-based interventions must be implemented. School-based gardening interventions have been linked to increased FV intake, but there has been little data collected on the effects of gardening interventions in high-risk groups such as Hispanic individuals.

Investigators conducted a randomized clinical trial (RCT) using a gardening intervention called Texas Sprouts, then determined the effects the intervention had on metabolic outcomes in elementary schoolchildren.

The Texas Sprouts study was a school-based cluster RCT, conducted over 3 waves from 2016 to 2019. There were 16 elementary schools randomized to an intervention or control group. 

Inclusion criteria for schools included having more than half of attending children be Hispanic, a majority participating in the free and reduced-price lunch program, schools being located within 60 miles of Austin, Texas, and no garden or garden program existing prior to the study.

Intervention group schools formed garden leadership committees, and committee members helped to build gardens in the school about 4 months before baseline measurements. Third to fifth grade students received 18 1-hour lessons on Texas Sprout separately from trained nutrition and garden educators.

Topics discussed in the curriculum include healthy cooking and preparation of FV, making nutritious food choices in different environments, eating locally produced food, low-sugar beverages made with fresh FV, health benefits of FV, how to maintain a healthy diet in food desert communities, and food equity and community service. 

A garden taste test or cooking activity was included in each lesson, tailored to Hispanic individuals. Control schools received delayed intervention.

Anthropometric data was collected at baseline and postintervention, with demographic data recorded as well through a questionnaire packet. An optional blood draw allowed data onmetabolic parameters to be collected. About 92% of parents completed baseline surveys and about 33% of children completed the baseline blood draw. 

Of the children who completed the baseline blood draw, 63% also completed the postintervention follow-up blood draw. Measurements for blood glucose, insulin, homeostatic model assessment of insulin resistance, and lipid were performed for these children.

About 69% of participants were Hispanic, and the mean age of participants was 9.28 years. Participants in the intervention group had improved glucose control and reduced low-density lipoprotein cholesterol compared to the control group, showing improved metabolic parameters in high-risk individuals after garden-based interventions.

Reference

Davis JN, Landry MJ, Vandyousefi S, Jeans MR, Hudson EA, Hoelscher DM, et al. Effects of a school-based nutrition, gardening, and cooking intervention on metabolic parameters in high-risk youth: asecondary analysis of a cluster randomized clinical trial. JAMA Netw Open. 2023;6(1):e2250375. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2022.50375