A school-based gardening program may be helpful in improving elementary school kids’ metabolic outcomes, a team of researchers has found. The children’s blood sugar and cholesterol reportedly improved after the months-long program.
For their study, published Tuesday in JAMA Network Open, the researchers conducted a randomized clinical trial in Texas elementary schools. The idea, they said, was to find out whether “a school-based gardening, nutrition and cooking intervention affect changes in metabolic outcomes in elementary school children.”
Childhood obesity has increased in prevalence in the U.S., rising from just 5% in 1978 to 19.3% by 2018, the researchers noted. And although such school-based gardening programs have shown promise in improving their dietary behaviors, the metabolic outcomes as a result of the programs have yet to be evaluated.
The researchers conducted the study in a total of 16 low-income elementary schools in the greater Austin area, wherein the student population was mostly Hispanic.
“In Texas, 66% of adults and 45% of children (aged 7-9 years) have overweight or obesity, with the highest proportions among Hispanic individuals,” they wrote. “Hispanic children are also more likely than non-Hispanic White children to develop obesity-related metabolic diseases, such as metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes.”
The 16 schools were randomly assigned to either the Texas Sprouts intervention or a delayed intervention. Texas Sprouts entailed a school-year-long intervention that involved, among others, a 0.25-acre outdoor teaching garden; an 18-student gardening, nutrition and cooking lessons and nine monthly parent lessons.
The ones in the Texas Sprouts group received the intervention. The ones in the delayed group also had an identical intervention, except they received it in the following academic year.
The kids’ height, weight and body mass index (BMI) were measured. Their glucose, insulin, insulin resistance and lipid panel were also measured at both baseline and after the nine-month intervention.
Indeed, the Texas Sprouts schools saw reductions in mean blood sugar levels and bad cholesterol compared to the control group schools, according to The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth Houston). This, the university noted, potentially shows a reduced risk of diabetes and pre-diabetes in the population.
“Texas Sprouts incorporates nutrition, gardening and cooking components that improved glucose control and reduced bad cholesterol in children,” study senior author Adriana Pérez of UTHealth Houston School of Public Health said, as per the university release.
It’s possible that this resulted from the “combined effect” of an increase in vegetable and fiber intake as well as reductions in added sugar intake, the researchers said. The kids in both groups had increases in sugar intake, they noted, but less so in the Texas Sprouts group.
“Given that there is a critical need to reduce obesity-related metabolic disease in children, especially in low-income and Hispanic populations, this intervention has the potential to be implemented and scaled across the US,” the researchers wrote. “School-based gardening programs improve dietary intake, academic performance, and reduce metabolic diseases in even the most high-risk minority pediatric populations.”