Growing greener kids
What part can school gardens play in encouraging healthy food choices?
In kitchens throughout Australia, many parents are worrying about their children's diet.
Temptation lurks everywhere in an unhealthy mix of readily available junk food and energy drinks, pernicious advertising and the siren call of sedentary activities. What can parents do to set a good example and encourage their children to make healthy food choices?
According to ACU's Associate Professor Shawn Somerset, an expert in nutrition and public health, the answer could lie in a very simple place – school gardens.
Working with colleagues at the University of Texas, Brisbane-based Associate Professor Somerset has published research which found that school gardens can have a positive effect on children's health and behaviour, as well as the environment.
"We discovered that children who are involved with school gardens eat more vegetables and fruit. We also found that these children are willing to taste and cook a greater variety of vegetables and fruit and demonstrate improved behaviour both at home and in the classroom," he said.
School gardens are rapidly growing in popularity in schools across the world. They have been championed by the likes of Michelle Obama and Jamie Oliver. The doyenne of Australian cookery, Stephanie Alexander, AO, is so passionate about them that she set up her own not-for-profit foundation to teach primary school children to grow, harvest and prepare vegetables.
Associate Professor Somerset said the research indicated that school gardens have positive implications for sustainability, as well as children's health.
"School gardens are a great model to integrate nutrition, environmental sustainability and education objectives. They introduce children to their local environment and encourage them to take care of it."
But he said that further research was now needed to understand how to achieve long-term improvements in dietary behaviours and how to sustain and develop the programs in schools.
"Installing and using school gardens is not complicated, and many successful gardens have run purely on the energy of local school communities."
So – the evidence is clear. School gardens develop children's confidence, curiosity, and taste buds. They can, potentially, support positive lifelong eating habits too.
Learn more about studying public health and administration at ACU.