Growing Active Kids

By Susan Littlefield

School gardens grow more than plants. Young people who participate in school garden programs improve their knowledge of good nutrition, broaden their tastes in terms of food choices, and increase their consumption of vegetables and fruits. Equally important, participating in garden programs allows children the opportunity for regular moderate exercise in an enjoyable way. These healthful diet and exercise practices, planted like seeds in the garden, continue to grow into life-long habits that can be potent weapons in the fight against childhood obesity.

Recent research at Cornell University reinforces the effectiveness of school garden programs in getting kids moving. In a two-year study at 12 elementary schools in five regions of New York State, researchers found that children at schools with garden programs were moderately physically active for 10 more minutes a week than children at schools without such programs. While that might not seem like a lot, it was a four-fold increase over activity levels at schools without gardens. Perhaps even more significant, the children who gardened at school were considerably less sedentary at home and elsewhere than those from gardenless schools.

According to environmental psychologist Nancy Wells, associate professor of design and environmental analysis in Cornell's College of Human Ecology, "School gardens are an effective way to begin to nudge kids toward their 60 minutes of daily activity," the minimum amount recommended by the Department of Health and Human Services. She also noted that at the schools in the study with garden programs "kids were only spending an hour or two per week in the gardens, yet there was a significant difference in physical activity. The findings suggest that if schools embraced gardens further and integrated them into lesson plans, there might be an even greater effect."

To read more about this important research, go to Cornell Chronicles

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