Establishing healthy eating habits during childhood is critical to prevent chronic diseases that develop in adulthood. Tribally owned Early Childhood and Education (ECE) programs signify fundamental influence in childhood obesity disparities. A strategy to improve diet is the use of school gardens; however, few studies have used rigorous methods to assess diet and health outcomes. The purpose of this manuscript is to describe results from the six-month Food Resource Equity for Sustainable Health (FRESH) study among Native American families. We aimed to recruit 176 families of children attending Osage Nation ECE programs in four communities. Two communities received the intervention and two served as wait-list controls. Outcomes included change in dietary intake, body mass index, health status, systolic blood pressure (adults only), and food insecurity in children and parents. There were 193 children (n = 106 intervention; n = 87 control) and 170 adults (n = 93 intervention; n = 77 control) enrolled. Vegetable intake significantly increased in intervention children compared to controls for squash (p = 0.0007) and beans (p = 0.0002). Willingness to try scores increased for beans in intervention children (p = 0.049) and tomatoes in both groups (p = 0.01). FRESH is the first study to implement a farm-to-school intervention in rural, tribally owned ECEs. Future interventions that target healthy dietary intake among children should incorporate a comprehensive parent component in order to support healthy eating for all household members.
Keywords: American Indian; Native American; community-based participatory research; early childhood education programs; farm-to-school intervention; randomized-controlled trial.