The rise in obesity has been fueled by poor nutrition as well as a decrease in physical activities. Only 41% of 11 12-year-olds across Europe and Canada consume vegetables as part of their meals every day, and only 24% of them engage in at least one hour of moderate or vigorous physical exercise (such as vigorous walking or running) each day.
The ability to tackle this issue early in the child’s life is crucial to establish the habit of healthy living for the rest of your life. One solution could be to integrate gardeners into the curriculum of schools. This approach addresses inactivity levels that are low and promotes healthy eating habits.
Getting children gardening
In the year 2018 In 2018, Dr Ruth Bell and I collaborated to develop and research an educational gardening project for the London elementary school. We implemented this project in conjunction with Conservation Volunteers. This organization works with community volunteers towards a healthier community, as well as Meat Free Monday. This non-profit initiative aims to increase awareness of the negative effects of commercial fishing on the environment. We also encourage people to eat plant-based food.
The children of the primary school took part in regular gardening classes that lasted for two hours every week throughout the school year. They also participated in education sessions about the environmental and health advantages of eating plant-based foods and were encouraged to experiment with and taste new foods.
Children’s ideas designed the gardening program. They sketched plans to develop the grounds of the school and created maps of nature that outlined their plans for the design of the garden, as well as other elements to attract wildlife.
A child’s concept for the school grounds. Matluba Khan, Author provided (no reuse)
In the winter, children built raised beds for the spring crop – taking care of weeds and covering and filling the beds using leaf mulch. They planted seeds and looked after their lawns as well as the garden.
Evaluation of results
To determine the impact on the children, we compared the gardeners to the control group. For the duration of a half-year, 30 students in one class remained in their regular school hours in the indoors control group while 30 children from other classes took part in gardening activities. In the second part of the year, the children in the control group were given the chance to be involved in the garden.
Children are preparing their raised beds. Matluba Khan, Author provided (no reuse)
We asked each of the 60 children to put on the accelerometers GENEActiv throughout seven straight days to keep track of their activity levels. They also completed an online survey that asked them their opinions about fruit and vegetables and the amount they consume.
We observed that kids who were part of the regular gardening classes spent more time sitting down than peers in classes that were inside. The kids who participated in gardening classes were more active, participating in more moderate-to-vigorous intensities of exercise than their classmates in the other classes. We had a discussion with the children talked about their muscles growing while they were engaged in various kinds of gardening tasks.
Even though it was winter, it was not a problem for the kids. They were excited to be outdoors more because they loved gardening on the school grounds.
Our data didn’t show an increase in the consumption of vegetables among the children working on the farm, the kids said that they were aware more of the plants, their nutrition, and the health benefits of eating vegetables and fruits. Many of them said they were excited to try new foods, and some of them claimed that they now ate veggies, which they had before transferred to their mother’s plate.
In the winter months, the kids were spending a lot of time in the garden preparing to plant the spring crop and didn’t get the chance to taste the products of the park. Many of them believed that they’d eat more vegetables if they could cultivate their gardens throughout the year and cultivate and harvest the produce they have grown in their gardens.