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Evaluation of the impact of a school gardening intervention on children’s fruit and vegetable intake: a randomised controlled trial

Meaghan S Christian12*, Charlotte EL Evans1, Camilla Nykjaer1, Neil Hancock1 and Janet E Cade1

Author Affiliations

1 Nutritional Epidemiology Group, School of Food Science and Nutrition, University of Leeds, Leeds LS2 9JT, UK

2 School of Health and Wellbeing, Faculty of Health and Social Sciences, Leeds Metropolitan University, City Campus, Calverley Street, Leeds LS1 3HE, UK

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International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity 2014, 11:99  doi:10.1186/s12966-014-0099-7

Published: 16 August 2014

Abstract

Background

Current academic literature suggests that school gardening programmes can provide an interactive environment with the potential to change children’s fruit and vegetable intake. This is the first cluster randomised controlled trial (RCT) designed to evaluate whether a school gardening programme can have an effect on children’s fruit and vegetable intake.

Methods

The trial included children from 23 schools; these schools were randomised into two groups, one to receive the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS)-led intervention and the other to receive the less involved Teacher-led intervention. A 24-hour food diary (CADET) was used to collect baseline and follow-up dietary intake 18 months apart. Questionnaires were also administered to evaluate the intervention implementation.

Results

A total of 641 children completed the trial with a mean age of 8.1 years (95% CI: 8.0, 8.4). The unadjusted results from multilevel regression analysis revealed that for combined daily fruit and vegetable intake the Teacher-led group had a higher daily mean change of 8 g (95% CI: −19, 36) compared to the RHS-led group -32 g (95% CI: −60, −3). However, after adjusting for possible confounders this difference was not significant (intervention effect: −40 g, 95% CI: −88, 1; p = 0.06). The adjusted analysis of process measures identified that if schools improved their gardening score by 3 levels (a measure of school gardening involvement - the scale has 6 levels from 0 ‘no garden’ to 5 ‘community involvement’), irrespective of group allocation, children had, on average, a daily increase of 81 g of fruit and vegetable intake (95% CI: 0, 163; p = 0.05) compared to schools that had no change in gardening score.

Conclusions

This study is the first cluster randomised controlled trial designed to evaluate a school gardening intervention. The results have found very little evidence to support the claims that school gardening alone can improve children’s daily fruit and vegetable intake. However, when a gardening intervention is implemented at a high level within the school it may improve children’s daily fruit and vegetable intake by a portion. Improving children’s fruit and vegetable intake remains a challenging task.

Trial registration

ISRCTN11396528 webcite