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School gardens promote health eating: study

As parents continue to worry about their children’s diets, recent research indicates there may be a simple solution.

A published study from the Australian Catholic University and the University of Texas has found school gardens can give an incentive for kids to eat healthy.

“We discovered that children who are involved with school gardens eat more vegetables and fruit,” said associate professor Shawn Somerset, an expert in nutrition and health from ACU. “We also found that these children are willing to taste and cook a greater variety of vegetables and fruit and demonstrate improved behaviour both at home and in the classroom.”

During the study, the researchers assessed 13 school garden programs in Australia and the US, to examine their effects on children’s dietary behaviours and identify useful strategies for healthy eating. The school gardens examined were for students from kindergarten to Year 8.

Six of the programs helped increase vegetable intake in kids, whereas four had no effect. Seven of the eight studies that examined kids’ food preferences found school gardens helped make kids want to eat their vegetables.

Somerset said that, overall, school gardens had a positive effect on kids’ health and helps them be more environmentally aware. He also said further research is needed into achieving long-term improvements in dietary behaviours, and encouraged educators to establish school-garden programs.

“Installing and using school gardens is not complicated, and many successful gardens have run purely on the energy of local school communities,” Somerset said. “Our study showed that international research in this area is sparse, but encouraging. Such community-based initiatives are highly cost-effective and can potentially yield a raft of long-term health and wellbeing outcomes. They therefore deserve a far larger share of the national research budget.”

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