Preventing Childhood Obesity

Growing Healthy Children with Community Gardening

By: Nancy Trout, MD, MPH

The benefits of teaching children to grow their own food from a young age are well known, which is why the Kohl’s Start Childhood Off Right (SCOR) program launched a new community gardening project over the summer.

SCOR, which is part of Connecticut Children’s Office for Community Child Health, collaborated with several community partners, including Knox, Inc., to build and plant raised garden beds at family and community centers around Hartford. Locations include the Southside Family Center, the RAMBUH Family Center, and the Institute for the Hispanic Family, as well as the Boys and Girls Club of Hartford and the Women’s League Child Development Center.

Children, families, and staff cared for the beds over the summer, which promoted outdoor physical activity and exploration of nature. Early this fall, SCOR hosted a harvesting and cooking event with Cooking Matters for families and staff at Southside to celebrate their garden work, as well as to engage children in preparing healthy food and tasting fresh produce.

SCOR is dedicated to preventing childhood obesity and focuses its educational outreach efforts on children ages 0 to 5. Childhood obesity has increased dramatically in the past three decades. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) from 2018 showed the increase of overweight and obesity in 2-5 year olds from 2014-2018 to be particularly alarming at five percent. In addition, a 2016 study done in Hartford preschools found 32 percent of 3-5 year olds were overweight or obese. The City of Hartford is a food desert with limited access to a full grocery store for many of its residents. Families with young children often lack access to fresh fruits and vegetables, which we know to be essential components of a healthy diet, which makes community gardening projects so important.

Other community garden programs, such as the Hartford Food System’s Little City Sprouts, provide young children with the opportunity to grow, harvest, learn about, and taste fresh fruits and vegetables. The Berkeley Public School system has used revenue from the city’s sugar sweetened beverage tax to fund a garden and cooking-based learning program with a curriculum that includes children from preschool through high school. Students and teachers spend time planting, growing, learning about and tasting the foods they grow, while the program focuses on academic achievement, increased health, and essential life skills.

We were thrilled with the results of our community garden project. Families and community center staff enjoyed planting and taking care of the food. They also enjoyed learning how to make healthy recipes. We are excited to continue this project in future summers. Our hope is that parents will continue to see how easy it is to grow fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as how much better they taste compared to packaged foods. Providing nutrition education to families is a top priority for SCOR, and these community gardens are a great way to empower children and their families to grow and stay healthy.

Nancy Trout, MD, MPH is co-director of Kohl’s Start Childhood Off Right, which is a childhood obesity prevention initiative of Connecticut Children’s Office for Community Child Health.

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