From: Allison Winter, ENN
Published April 19, 2013 08:58 AM

Study Suggests Community Gardening May Produce Health Benefits

There are many benefits to community gardens. From greening urban ecosystems, to offering education and cultural opportunities, community gardens provide a venue for people to come together and stimulate social interaction.

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For individuals, these gardens also provide a venue for exercise, food production, and improved diets. These potential benefits have lead to a new study that reveals those who participate in community gardening have a significantly lower body mass index and have lower odds of being overweight or obese compared to their non-gardening neighbors. 

"It has been shown previously that community gardens can provide a variety of social and nutritional benefits to neighborhoods," says Cathleen Zick, lead author of the study and professor of family and consumer studies at the University of Utah. "But until now, we did not have data to show a measurable health benefit for those who use the gardens."

To gauge a health benefit, researchers used body mass index (BMI). In general, a normal BMI ranges from 18.5 to 24.9; a smaller number is better than a larger one.

Results showed that women community gardeners had an average BMI 1.84 lower than their neighbors (an 11 pound weight difference for a woman 5 feet 5 inches tall). For men, the BMI was lower by 2.36 for gardeners (a difference of 16 pounds for a man 5 feet 10 inches tall)—compared to the neighborhood cohort. Gardeners were also less likely to be overweight or obese; 46 percent less for women gardeners, and 62 percent less for men gardeners.

"These data are intriguing, although they were drawn from participants in a single community gardening organization in Salt Lake City and may not apply broadly until more research is done," Zick notes. "However, as the percentage of Americans living in urban areas continues to grow, this initial study validates the idea that community gardens are a valuable neighborhood asset that can promote healthier living. That could be of interest to urban planners, public health officials and others focused on designing new neighborhoods and revitalizing old ones."

"We know obesity is costly," Zick concludes. "This study begins to shed light on the costs and benefits of the choices families make about eating and physical activity. Future research with controlled, randomized field studies across a range of communities are needed to further advance our understanding of the role gardening can play in healthy lives."

Researchers at the University of Utah reported these and other findings in the American Journal of Public Health published online.

For more information, see the University of Utah News Center.

People gardening image via Shutterstock.

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