Background: Low physical activity (PA) and fruit and vegetable (F&V) consumption in early childhood are continued public health challenges. This manuscript describes outcomes from two pilot studies for Sustainability via Active Garden Education (SAGE), a program designed to increase PA and F&V consumption among 3 to 5 year old children.
Methods: SAGE was developed using community-based participatory research (CBPR) and delivered to children (N = 89) in early care and education centers (ECEC, N = 6) in two US cities. Children participated in 12 one-hour sessions that included songs, games, and interactive learning activities involving garden maintenance and taste tests. We evaluated reach, efficacy, adoption, implementation, and potential for maintenance of SAGE following the RE-AIM framework. Reach was evaluated by comparing demographic characteristics among SAGE participants and residents of target geographic areas. Efficacy was evaluated with accelerometer-measured PA, F&V consumption, and eating in the absence of hunger among children, parenting practices regarding PA, and home availability of F&V. Adoption was evaluated by the number of ECEC that participated relative to the number of ECEC that were recruited. Implementation was evaluated by completion rates of planned SAGE lessons and activities, and potential for maintenance was evaluated with a parent satisfaction survey.
Results: SAGE reached ECEC in neighborhoods representing a wide range of socioeconomic status, with participants' sociodemographic characteristics representing those of the intervention areas. Children significantly increased PA during SAGE lessons compared to usual lessons, but they also consumed more calories in the absence of hunger in post- vs. pre-intervention tests (both p < .05). Parent reports did not suggest changes in F&V consumption, parenting PA practices, or home F&V availability, possibly due to low parent engagement. ECEC had moderate-to-high implementation of SAGE lessons and curriculum. Potential for maintenance was strong, with parents rating SAGE favorably and reporting increases in knowledge about PA and nutrition guidelines for young children.
Conclusions: SAGE successfully translated national PA guidelines to practice for young children but was less successful with nutrition guidelines. High adoption and implementation and favorable parent reports suggest high potential for program sustainability. Further work to engage parents and families of young children in ECEC-based PA and nutrition programming is needed.
Keywords: Children; Curriculum; Early intervention; Eating behavior; Fruit; Physical activity; Preschool; Program evaluation; Vegetables.