September 29, 2016

The Power of Planting A Garden

Working a garden at home or at school has a profound — and profoundly beneficial — effect on eating habits.

You may think you have tried everything to get your kids to eat their fruits and vegetables, but there’s one thing you may not have tried — gardening. Sowing the seeds of good nutrition early in life — literally — can encourage healthy eating, help create lifelong eating habits and have a positive effect on weight.

People who participated in gardening as kids or those who were currently gardening ate more fruits and vegetables than those who had no experience with gardening, according to a study at the University of Florida.

Researchers divided over 1,300 college students into four groups, according to their responses to a questionnaire: those who participated in gardening as a child; those who were current gardeners; those who were involved with gardening as a child and still were; and those who had never gardened.

Possibly the most important takeaway from these findings is the value of parents spending time playing in the dirt with their kids.

The students who gardened as children (30 percent) and those who were current gardeners (38 percent) ate more fruits and vegetables daily than students who had never experienced gardening.

Watching their parents garden but not participating did not make a difference in the amount of fruits and vegetables the students ate. It was the hands-on experience that was important, according to lead author, Anne Mathews, an assistant professor of food science and human nutrition.

The study is part of a larger effort by eight universities around the country to encourage college students to eat healthier and understand the influences that guide the eating habits of teens and young adults.

School gardens and farm-to-school projects are becoming more popular; and the findings of this study should inspire schools to adopt programs that encourage gardening, perhaps partnering with parent groups, civic organizations or local universities to plant gardens on school campuses.

Possibly the most important takeaway from these findings is the value of parents spending time playing in the dirt with their kids. Dig up a garden, plant seeds and watch them grow. Seeing the fruits of their labor may be just what it takes for kids to cultivate a love of fruits and vegetables, not to mention gardening.

The study was published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
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