A recent study published in The Journal of Nutrition reveals that school-based gardening, cooking and nutrition education interventions can improve dietary intake, specifically increasing unprocessed food consumption and decreasing ultra-processed food consumption.
The consumption of ultra-processed foods, which refers to foods with low nutrient content, has steadily increased along with obesity prevalence. Despite the known negative health implications, the consumption of ultra-processed foods among Mexican-Americans and non-Hispanic Black youths is particularly high compared to non-Hispanic White counterparts. Conversely, consumption of unprocessed or minimally processed foods, which have protective health benefits, has decreased in youth 2-19 years of age.
School-based nutrition education and gardening interventions have become increasingly popular to improve students’ nutrition knowledge and dietary practices. However, most gardening interventions focus on fruit and vegetable consumption, neglecting to examine the impact on consumption of processed foods in children. To bridge this knowledge gap, Davis (The University of Texas at Austin) and colleagues examined the effect of Texas Sprouts, a school-based program that offers gardening, cooking, and nutrition education on unprocessed or minimally processed and ultra-processed food consumption. The study used a randomized controlled design that consisted of 16 elementary schools assigned to either the Texas Sprouts intervention or control over 3 years. Texas Sprouts schools received an outdoor teaching garden and 18 1-hour lessons taught by trained educators throughout the school year. Using NOVA, a food classification system that groups foods based on the extent of industrial food processing, foods and beverages were categorized as unprocessed, processed, or ultra-processed. To measure changes in percent calories and grams of NOVA grouped foods, two 24-hour dietary recalls were used on a random subsample at baseline and postintervention. It was hypothesized that children in the Texas Sprouts intervention would have increased intake of unprocessed or minimally processed and decreased ultra-processed food consumption.
The intervention, compared to the control, resulted in an increase in consumption of unprocessed foods (2.3% compared with -1.8% grams) and a decrease in ultra-processed foods (-2.4% compared with 1.4% grams). In addition, Hispanic children in the intervention group had an increase in unprocessed food consumption and a decrease in ultra-processed food consumption compared to non-Hispanic children (-3.4% compared with 1.5% grams).
To date, this is the first study to examine the effect of a school-based gardening, cooking, and nutrition education intervention on processed food categories determined by NOVA. The primary result of this study suggests that school-based gardening, cooking, and nutrition education interventions can improve dietary intake, specifically increasing unprocessed food consumption and decreasing ultra-processed food consumption, with greater changes observed in Hispanic children compared to non-Hispanic children.
Jeans MR, Landry MJ, Vandyousefi S, Hudson EA, Burgermaster M, Bray MS, Chandra J, Davis JN. Effects of a School-Based Gardening, Cooking, and Nutrition Cluster Randomized Controlled Trial on Unprocessed and Ultra-Processed Food Consumption. The Journal of Nutrition, Volume 153, Issue 7, July 2023, Pages 2073-2084, doi.org/10.1016/j.tjnut.2023.04.013.
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