School Gardens May Help Lower Bad Cholesterol and Blood Sugar in Children, Study Finds

Based on their results, the study authors suggest that policymakers should consider implementing elementary school gardening and nutrition learning programs.

Gardening is an activity that not only grows fresh, wholesome food for the table but also can improve overall health. For instance, research has shown that community gardening programs can reduce the risks of diseases such as cancer and improve mental health.

Now, a new randomized controlled study has found that Texas Sprouts — a school-based gardening, nutrition, and cooking program in Austin, Texas — improved blood sugar control and reduced bad cholesterol in elementary school students.

The research was published on January 10 in JAMA Network Open.

To conduct the study, researchers from The University of Texas at Austin and UTHealth Houston School of Public Health evaluated the effects of the Texas Sprouts program on elementary students. Specifically, they looked at how gardening impacted the children’s metabolic parameters.

Texas Sprouts program is a 9-month long school-based intervention consisting of Garden Leadership Committee formation, a quarter acre teaching garden, and 18 gardening, nutrition, and cooking lessons. In addition, parents can attend nine monthly parent sessions.

From 2016–2019, the scientists assigned the children to either the Texas Sprouts intervention or a delayed intervention — which occurred after the data from the first intervention was collected.

Before the intervention, the scientists gathered demographic data and metabolic measurements, including body mass index (BMI), blood sugar and insulin levels, and a cholesterol panel.

After the program concluded, the scientists analyzed the data and metabolic measurements of 695 students — 480 of whom were Hispanic children. The team found that children who completed the program had a 0.02% reduction in mean blood sugar levels and a 6.40 mg/dL reduction in low-density lipoprotein cholesterol compared to students who enrolled in the delayed intervention. However, the program did not affect other metabolic parameters, such as insulin levels or insulin resistance.

In a news release, senior author Adriana Pérez, PhD, said, “small increases in dietary fiber and vegetable intake, as well as reductions in added sugar intake, may have combined effects on lowering bad cholesterol and improving glucose control.”

According to the study authors, their findings indicate that elementary schools should consider implementing school-based gardening programs to improve metabolic parameters in children. If schools adopt this intervention, it could reach approximately 24 million kindergarten through fifth-grade students in the US.

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