Gardens that can teach about biology, horticulture and healthy eating could also be an important step in helping curb the epidemic of childhood obesity in the United States. In fact, experts agree that by adding plot of soil and packet of seeds while eliminating junk food and soda vending machines throughout the more 80,000 grammar schools in the United States could be the answer to the equation of school age obesity.
According to the American Heart Association, approximately 33% of children in the United States are overweight or obese. This number has tripled since 1963. “These statistics are staggering,” said Dr. Robert DiBianco, practicing cardiologist and spokesperson for the American Heart Association.
According to DiBianco, the growth in this disease can be easily linked to more than $160 billion in medical costs associated with treating illnesses like high blood pressure and cholesterol. In addition the psychological ailments associated with obesity often are at the root of poor performance in school. The problem is so pronounced that in 2010, Congress passed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which banned the use of soda vending machines and junk food items in schools. First Lady Michelle Obama has also dedicated her time in the White House to increasing awareness and eliminating childhood obesity in America.
The good news is that health experts are overwhelmingly in agreement in how to curb childhood obesity. That is simply to increase the daily intake of fresh fruits and vegetables. However, the bad news to this problem is that kids very often don’t like the tastes of these foods.
“You can’t just tell kids to eat more fruits and vegetables,” said University of North Carolina School of Medicine assistant professor Asheley Cockrell Skinner.
Therefore many doctors and health experts explain that by adding vegetable gardening to school curriculums in campuses across the country, would not only help teach kids how foods are grown, these same small garden plots would also help in teaching biology and horticulture.
“Gardens would also pull kids away from the television and encourage them to go outside,” said Candice Shoemaker, an associate professor at Kansas State University in the studies of forestry, horticulture, and recreation resources.
In fact, Shoemaker has taken her idea to Washington D.C. where she recently received a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Research Institute for more than $1 million. The grant, according to Shoemaker will study whether gardening can encourage a healthier lifestyle. She has called her study, Promoting Lifelong Activity and Nutrition Through School (PLANT).
Seeking to serve as a national model for how gardens could help reduce childhood obesity, Shoemaker explained that her study would target fourth and fifth graders by creating working and productive gardens in the summer and during the cold winter months. By creating a partnership with leading community agricultural leaders, Shoemaker explained that she will be accomplishing several things at once.
“Kids will be positively influenced with new skills and activities,” said Shoemaker.
These new skills will be focused on changing the patterns surrounding physical activity as well as encouraging social inter-action. In addition, gardens would produce not only carrots, beans and tomatoes, they would produce knowledge in the form of practical biology and horticulture lessons.
The American Psychological Association agrees, explaining that schools for gardens because basic biology would be stressed while simultaneously educating kids as to the fundamentals of nutrition and healthy dietary habits. The garden plots could even act as community gardens vegetables and fruits could be sold to the community.
“Activity and nutrition are essential in preventing chronic disease and obesity,” Shoemaker said.
By combining moderate to intense physical activity and the knowledge behind producing produce for healthy eating, gardens throughout United States schools could be a major step in helping childhood obesity.
By Vincent Aviani