Pilot Randomized Controlled Trial of a Home Vegetable Gardening Intervention among Older Cancer Survivors Shows Feasibility, Satisfaction, and Promise in Improving Vegetable and Fruit Consumption, Reassurance of Worth, and the Trajectory of Central Adiposity

J Acad Nutr Diet. 2018 Apr;118(4):689-704. doi: 10.1016/j.jand.2017.11.001. Epub 2018 Jan 2.


Background: Holistic approaches are sought to improve lifestyle behaviors and health of cancer survivors long term.

Objective: Our aim was to explore whether a home-based vegetable gardening intervention is feasible and whether it improves diet and other health-related outcomes among older cancer survivors.

Design: We conducted a feasibility trial in which cancer survivors were randomized to receive a year-long gardening intervention immediately or to a wait-list control arm. Home visits at baseline and 1 year assessed physical performance, anthropometric indices, behavioral and psychosocial outcomes, and biomarkers.

Participants/setting: Participants included 46 older (aged 60+ years) survivors of locoregionally staged cancers across Alabama from 2014 to 2016. Forty-two completed 1-year follow-up.

Intervention: Cooperative extension master gardeners delivered guidance to establish three seasonal vegetable gardens at survivors' homes. Plants, seeds, and gardening supplies were provided.

Outcomes: Primary outcomes were feasibility targets of 80% accrual and retention, and an absence of serious adverse events; other outcomes were secondary and explored potential benefits.

Statistical analyses: Baseline to follow-up changes were assessed within and between arms using paired t, McNemar's, and χ2 tests.

Results: This trial proved to be safe and demonstrated 91.3% retention; 70% of intervention participants rated their experience as "excellent," and 85% would "do it again." Data suggest significantly increased reassurance of worth (+0.49 vs -0.45) and attenuated increases in waist circumference (+2.30 cm vs +7.96 cm) in the gardening vs control arms (P=0.02). Vegetable and fruit consumption increased by approximately 1 serving/day within the gardening arm from baseline to follow-up (mean [standard error]=1.34 [1.2] to 2.25 [1.9] servings/day; P=0.02)] compared to controls (1.22 [1.1] to 1.12 [0.7]; P=0.77; between-arm P=0.06).

Conclusions: The home vegetable gardening intervention among older cancer survivors was feasible and suggested improvements in vegetable and fruit consumption and reassurance of worth; data also suggest attenuated increases in waist circumference. Continued study of vegetable gardening interventions is warranted to improve health, health behaviors, and well-being of older cancer survivors.

Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov NCT02150148.

Keywords: Cancer survivors; Diet; Gardening; Physical function.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adiposity
  • Alabama
  • Cancer Survivors / psychology*
  • Diet / methods*
  • Diet / psychology
  • Eating / physiology
  • Eating / psychology
  • Feasibility Studies
  • Female
  • Fruit*
  • Gardening / methods*
  • Health Behavior
  • Humans
  • Life Style
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Outcome Assessment, Health Care
  • Patient Satisfaction
  • Pilot Projects
  • Quality of Life
  • Social Desirability
  • Vegetables*
  • Waist Circumference

Associated data

  • ClinicalTrials.gov/NCT02150148