Background

Total fruit and vegetable (F/V) intake is associated with improved health outcomes and decreased disease risk, yet most children do not consume recommended amounts of F/V. Involving children in gardening is one strategy purported to increase consumption of F/V in children, but objective outcome measures are rarely available to evaluation school garden programs. To evaluate the impact of a multi-school garden program, we used reflectance spectroscopy to assess changes in carotenoids, a bio-marker of total F/V intake.

Methods

Data from the 2017-18 academic year were collected from students using reflectance spectroscopy for skin carotenoids (VEGGIE METER®). Data were collected in three schools (n for schools 1, 2, and 3: 44, 30, 66). About half of the participants were female (52%). One-way ANOVA was used to compare mean score differences in F/V intake between the schools that participated in the garden intervention.

Results

There was a statistically significant decrease in F/V intake from pre to post for pooled data (mean ± SD: -37.7 ± 65.8; p<0.01). There was no difference in change in F/V intake between males and females (p = NS.). There were no among schools’ significant change in F/V intake (mean for schools 1, 2, and 3, respectively: -21.5 ± 64.2, -44.0 ± 67.7, -45.7 ± 61.7; p = NS).

Conclusions

Children participating in this school garden program had a significant decrease in F/V intake. With no control group we cannot determine if this decrease is attributable to the school garden program. The program recently underwent a curriculum revision to incorporate additional activities grounded in behavior change theory. Future data collection will determine if these curricular changes will lead to the intended impact of increased F/V intake.