From Farm to Classroom
Nutrition and cooking classes and school gardens have sprung up at elementary schools across Central Texas as part of TX Sprouts, a research project launched by associate professor Jaimie Davis in the Department of Nutritional Sciences. Funded by the National Institutes of Health, the project aims to collect data from 16 elementary schools across the Austin area to assess whether gardening and educational interventions can improve diet and reduce obesity among children.
Preliminary evidence suggests that such interventions are effective. In a previous iteration of the project in Los Angeles, Davis found that children participating in the intervention increased their vegetable intake and experienced reduced obesity compared to third- and fifth-grade students not in the program. Children in the LA Sprouts program decreased their body mass index and waist circumference, and they increased the amount of fiber in their diets. The study group also had lower health risks from metabolic syndrome, which includes high blood pressure and high blood sugar. Finally, the children improved their knowledge about fruits, vegetables and nutrition and were more likely to garden at home.
“We saw that teaching kids to grow their own food, doing a seed-to-plate approach, was very impactful,” says Davis. “I hope to see the same on a larger scale with TX Sprouts.”
TX Sprouts is currently in full data-collection stage, and the scale is bigger in Texas. Close to 100 nutrition undergraduates help in some way on the project each year, and several full-time staff facilitate classes and data collection. Even at this early stage, though, the need is clear.
“After preliminary analysis, we show that close to 40 percent of the children are in fact pre-diabetic at the start of the study, or before intervention,” says Davis. “This is way higher than we anticipated.”