Brett Smith for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
Community gardens have long been thought to convey numerous health and social benefits to those who maintain them, but these benefits have never been the subject of scientific study. New research from a team of Utah-based scientists changes that through a study recently published in the“¯American Journal of Public Health.
Led by Cathleen Zick, a professor of family and consumer studies at the University of Utah, the research team found that people who participate in community gardening have a significantly lower body mass index (BMI) and lower odds of being overweight than their neighbors who are not involved in the garden.
“It has been shown previously that community gardens can provide a variety of social and nutritional benefits to neighborhoods,” Zick said. “But until now, we did not have data to show a measurable health benefit for those who use the gardens.”
The study showed that the body mass index (BMI) for female gardeners was an average of 1.84 points lower than that of their non-gardening neighbors — that´s the equivalent of an 11-pound weight difference for a 5-foot, 5-inch woman. Researchers found that male gardeners had an average BMI 2.36 lower than their non-participating counterparts, which translates to 16 pounds on a man 5 feet 10 inches tall.
The study also showed that gardeners were less likely to be overweight — 46 percent less for women and 62 percent less for men.
To better understand the benefits of a community garden, the research team recorded the BMIs of the community gardeners at Wasatch Community Gardens (WCG), a 20-year-old non-profit organization in Salt Lake City.“¯The team also culled data from three separate control groups. The first group included neighbors who shared similar physical environments and economic statuses. The second group included same-sex siblings in order to account for possible genetic predispositions with respect to weight. The third group was comprised of the spouses of the gardeners, to account for similar lifestyle and food choices.
In addition to revealing the benefits of a community garden when compared to non-gardening neighbors, the study also found a benefit when comparing BMIs between sisters or brothers. Women in the gardening group were found to have an average BMI 1.88 points lower than their sisters. For men, the difference was slightly less stark, averaging 1.33 lower between brothers.
“These data are intriguing, although they were drawn from participants in a single community gardening organization in Salt Lake City and may not apply broadly until more research is done,” Zick said “However, as the percentage of Americans living in urban areas continues to grow, this initial study validates the idea that community gardens are a valuable neighborhood asset that can promote healthier living. That could be of interest to urban planners, public health officials and others focused on designing new neighborhoods and revitalizing old ones.”
“We know obesity is costly,” Zick concluded. “This study begins to shed light on the costs and benefits of the choices families make about eating and physical activity. Future research with controlled, randomized field studies across a range of communities are needed to further advance our understanding of the role gardening can play in healthy lives.”