Kids aren’t always eager to eat their broccoli, asparagus, or peas.
But community gardens and school gardens can change all that, according to researchers from the University of Texas at Austin who recently found that implementing gardens at schools can positively impact students’ feelings about vegetables.
In fact, their data showed that those who took classes in gardening, nutrition and cooking ate an extra half a serving of these foods each day.
“A lot of the families in these schools live with food insecurity. They live in food deserts and face a higher risk of childhood obesity and related health issues,” Jaimie Davis, the lead author of the paper and an associate professor of nutritional sciences at UT Austin, said. “Teaching kids where their food comes from, how to grow it, how to prepare it ─ that’s key to changing eating behaviors over the long term.”
Kids and Their Exposure to School Gardens
Researchers studied 16 different schools in Central Texas, a region with a large Latino student population, for one academic year.
Moreover, they focused on those with a high-population of students who were from low-income families who received free or reduced-price meals.
The schools implemented both a community garden and provided classes on topics ranging from gardening to cooking. The lessons and garden activities yielded a rise in vegetable consumption.
The researchers also tracked other data, such as weight and blood pressure. While these measurements did not illustrate a marked health improvement, that wasn’t the main goal of this research, according to Davis.
“Behavior changes can be difficult to achieve, especially long term,” she said. “Changes to health parameters like blood pressure may take longer to manifest. Getting children to eat more vegetables can potentially set them up for long-term success.”
Vegetable Consumption Among Latino Kids
In 2018, the CDC reported some startling numbers when it comes to children of color and nutritious foods.
About 40% of all high-school students are not eating one vegetable each day.
The prevalence of not having eaten vegetables one or more times per day was higher among black (50.6%) and Latino (43.9%) students than their white peers (37.2%). Among youth who ate no vegetables at all, rates were higher among black (12.7%) and Latino (9.2%) students than their white peers (5.3%).
Is there a way to make an impact on this issue?
UT Austin’s Davis believes there is.
“We have been able to introduce children to a wide variety of vegetables that they’ve never had access to,” Davis said. “Parents I talk with ask, ‘How did you get my kid to eat kale?’ But when they grow the kale from seed and learn how to prepare it in olive oil and bake it into kale chips, they love it.”
How Latino Communities Are Promoting School Gardens
Luckily for some Latinos throughout the US, advocates have already successfully implemented gardens in schools and communities.
From El Paso to New York, various communities have urged for nutrition and gardening education in school curriculum. They had impressive results, too.
“There are food deserts that are popping up all over town,” Lonnie Sclerandi, a Spanish teacher and soccer coach at Austin Independent School District, said. “The economically disadvantaged people are often times forced to live in situations where healthy food is not often available.
Check out these stories on school gardens:
- El Jardin, La Cocina y El Mercado: Healthy Living Takes Root at Bowie High School
- School Garden Provides Healthy Snacks and Lessons for Students in Austin, TX
- Creating a ‘Magic Bean’ Curriculum for Healthy Nutrition
- Stephen Lucke Grows Gardens of Wellness in San Antonio
- School Nurse Starts School Garden To Encourage Healthy Eating
- In New York, School Gardens Boost Physical Activity Levels
- Old Storage Room Gets Revamped Into A Garden in an Oklahoma High School
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers Plant Learning Gardens to Grow Healthy Food Options
What You Can Do
While this is good news, kids are still at risk.
As COVID-19 continues to spread throughout the US, it will take a concerted effort from each and every American to bring this pandemic to an end.
In the meantime, if you’d like to continue making a difference in your community’s nutrition, you can download a Salud America! Health Equity Report Card.
The report card will show you how many local children live in poverty and food deserts, how many have low food access, and how many get SNAP food benefits. Then you can compare it to your state and to the country.
Email your Health Equity Report Card to community leaders, share it on social media, and use it to make the case to address food insecurity where help is needed most!
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