Background: Although school garden programs have been shown to improve dietary behaviors, there has not been a cluster-randomized controlled trial (RCT) conducted to examine the effects of school garden programs on obesity or other health outcomes. The goal of this study was to evaluate the effects of a one-year school-based gardening, nutrition, and cooking intervention (called Texas Sprouts) on dietary intake, obesity outcomes, and blood pressure in elementary school children.
Methods: This study was a school-based cluster RCT with 16 elementary schools that were randomly assigned to either the Texas Sprouts intervention (n = 8 schools) or to control (delayed intervention, n = 8 schools). The intervention was one school year long (9 months) and consisted of: a) Garden Leadership Committee formation; b) a 0.25-acre outdoor teaching garden; c) 18 student gardening, nutrition, and cooking lessons taught by trained educators throughout the school-year; and d) nine monthly parent lessons. The delayed intervention was implemented the following academic year and received the same protocol as the intervention arm. Child outcomes measured were anthropometrics (i.e., BMI parameters, waist circumference, and body fat percentage via bioelectrical impedance), blood pressure, and dietary intake (i.e., vegetable, fruit, and sugar sweetened beverages) via survey. Data were analyzed with complete cases and with imputations at random. Generalized weighted linear mixed models were used to test the intervention effects and to account for clustering effect of sampling by school.
Results: A total of 3135 children were enrolled in the study (intervention n = 1412, 45%). Average age was 9.2 years, 64% Hispanic, 47% male, and 69% eligible for free and reduced lunch. The intervention compared to control resulted in increased vegetable intake (+ 0.48 vs. + 0.04 frequency/day, p = 0.02). There were no effects of the intervention compared to control on fruit intake, sugar sweetened beverages, any of the obesity measures or blood pressure.
Conclusion: While this school-based gardening, nutrition, and cooking program did not reduce obesity markers or blood pressure, it did result in increased vegetable intake. It is possible that a longer and more sustained effect of increased vegetable intake is needed to lead to reductions in obesity markers and blood pressure.
Clinical trials number: NCT02668744 .
Keywords: Cooking intervention; Gardening; Hispanic; Low-income; Nutrition; Obesity; Overweight; School-based.