Do school gardening projects improve child health?

Posted on 30th March 2016

New research released this week has painted an inconclusive picture of the wellbeing benefits of school gardening projects.

The study is published in the journal BMC Public Health Research and represents the most rigorous analysis of the evidence to date.

School gardening programmes are increasingly popular, with many claiming they benefit children through healthier eating and increased physical activity.

Systematically reviewing the findings from 40 research papers, the team found some evidence that school garden programmes could boost children’s knowledge and awareness of nutrition, as well as improving their willingness to try new foods and healthier eating habits.

The research also found that gardening could provide an added opportunity for physical activity in both children and adults, and provide feelings of achievement, satisfaction and pride.

However, researchers stressed that the review highlighted significant limitations in our understanding of the effects school gardens might have.

“We’ve reviewed the highest quality international evidence available and found that we don’t know enough to support the current claims surrounding school gardens.”

The numerical evidence available was poor, in some cases relying on a child’s self-reported data, and positive results tended to stem only from qualitative research. By critically analysing all of the evidence together, the team have been able to highlight important gaps in our knowledge.

Dr Ruth Garside, an expert in Evidence Synthesis, helped conduct the study and said: “We’ve reviewed the highest quality international evidence available and found that we don’t know enough to support the current claims surrounding school gardens. We hope this research will help to influence better designed studies that can really unpick the elements that might be beneficial.”

The review also considered the common factors that help a project to survive. It found that local community involvement and integration of gardening activities into the school curriculum could support success, while a lack of funding and over reliance on volunteers might threaten long-term viability.

Dr Garside concluded: “Rather than making decisions based on single studies, this kind of review gives us a powerful way to add up what we know about a particular subject. The results have shown that whilst school gardening projects have the potential to provide health and wellbeing benefits, we’re still a long way from understanding their true impact.”

The full review is available here and more information on the project can be found here.

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