The enormity of the problem of childhood obesity in the US requires that effective, innovative prevention and intervention strategies be developed for the future health and success of our Country. Recently, the formation of the first-ever federal task force began to address this childhood obesity epidemic, with one of the key pillars being making healthy foods more affordable and accessible for families, and uses gardening as a primary vehicle to engage the public. However, few well-designed experimental studies exist that rigorously evaluate the impact of garden-based nutrition interventions on obesity and related metabolic disorders specifically in high-risk youth populations. We recently developed and demonstrated that a pilot 12-week after-school gardening/nutrition intervention ("LA Sprouts") in 4th - 5th grade students improved dietary fiber and vegetable intake, increased preference for fruit and vegetable intake, improved cooking and gardening skills, and decreased blood pressure and rate of weight gain in overweight students. However, this pilot study was not a randomized controlled trial, was conducted off-campus at a community garden and included a minimal parental component. Given the paucity of research-based trials supporting the federal initiative, additional studies are warranted. The goal of this project is to extend our LA Sprouts pilot study, and conduct a school-garden-based randomized nutrition and gardening intervention, utilizing lessons on campus during after school hours and family workshops at nearby community gardens on weekends, to improve dietary intake and reduce obesity and related metabolic disorders in Latino children (ages 8-11 years). Two regions, each with two elementary schools (a total of 400 3rd-5th graders, >90% Latino) and a participating community garden will be randomized into either: 1) LA Sprouts (12-week after school gardening/nutrition classes + bi-monthly family workshops;two schools, n=200 students);or 2) Control (Delayed intervention;two schools, n=200 students). This project will assess the effects of the LA Sprouts program on dietary intake and related behaviors, and obesity and related metabolic disorders. We hypothesize that students participating in LA Sprouts will consume more fruits and vegetables, have increased preference, motivation, and self-efficacy to eat fruits and vegetables, and have reduced obesity and metabolic risk factors compared to controls.
Given the enormity of the problem of childhood obesity in the US and the paucity of research-based trials supporting the recent federal anti-obesity initiative which draws on the current momentum for gardening, there is a need to evaluate how a gardening intervention impacts dietary intake/behaviors, and obesity and related metabolic disease risk, especially in a high-risk Latino population. This study will be the first to conduct a randomized controlled gardening and nutrition intervention to reduce obesity and metabolic disorders in high-risk Latino youth.