Public Health Community Gardens
by
Heather Kitzman-Ulrich, Jane Momoh, Ashley Martin, Mark DeHaven
  • LAST REVIEWED: 14 October 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 May 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756797-0102

Introduction

Community gardens have the potential to provide access to healthy and affordable foods, particularly in food desert areas, where access to fruits and vegetables is limited. Current research provides preliminary support for the positive impact of community gardens on individual and community health factors. School-based gardens have been tested in more rigorous scientific studies and have found a positive effect on knowledge of, preference for, and intake of fruits and vegetables, along with academic variables. Studies conducted in the community with adults are less scientifically rigorous, and the majority of studies to date are qualitative in nature or case reports. The scientific studies to date have low sample sizes, lack control conditions, and have limited measures of dietary variables. More studies are needed that include control conditions, adequate sample sizes, and evaluate relevant constructs such as diet, physical activity, weight, mental health, self-efficacy, motivation, social support, and community-related constructs (aesthetics, crime prevention, social capital) over time.

General Overviews

Understanding how access to healthy and affordable foods affects health is an important public health topic due to the associations among an unhealthy diet, obesity, and chronic disease. A balanced healthy diet that includes recommended amounts of fruits and vegetables protects against cardiovascular disease (Bhupathiraju and Tucker 2011) and is recommended for weight and chronic disease management (National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute 2005). Larson, et al. 2009 indicates that access to healthy and affordable foods is associated with healthier food intakes and lower rates of obesity. According to the report US Department of Agriculture 2009, nearly 2.3 million households are more than a mile away from a grocery store and do not have reliable transportation; therefore, their access to healthy foods is limited. Communities that lack access to healthy food options, such as grocery stores, are termed “food deserts” and tend to have a higher proportion of ethnic minority and low-income individuals, according to Larson, et al. 2009. Families who reside in food deserts have reduced access to healthy and affordable foods, a greater reliance on unhealthy food alternatives available in convenience stores, and a higher likelihood of being overweight. Mensah, et al. 2005 (cited under Research) reports that individuals in these communities also tend to experience higher rates of chronic disease and complications related to chronic health conditions. In order to address immediate food access issues, community approaches to improve access to healthy foods such as community gardens have seen a recent resurgence, according to McCormack, et al. 2010. Draper and Freedman 2010 indicates that these types of programs have positive benefits on knowledge of fruits and vegetables, intention to buy more fruits and vegetables, consumption of fruits and vegetables, and other physical and mental health benefits. Additionally, community gardens provide an opportunity for social connection, neighborhood revitalization, improvement of social capital, and crime deterrence, which is of particular relevance for lower-income areas. Although community gardens have gained recent popularity, there is little scientific research evaluating their impact on diet, physical activity, obesity and overall health, and community variables such as social capital and connectedness. Due to the potential health benefits of community gardens, additional research is needed to determine the most effective strategies for implementing and sustaining community gardens, integrating community gardens with other food security programs, and to assess possible long-term health and community benefits of community gardens, particularly in food desert communities.

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