Academic journal article International Public Health Journal

Learn, Eat, Grow: The Healthy Living Initiative

Academic journal article International Public Health Journal

Learn, Eat, Grow: The Healthy Living Initiative

Article excerpt


Lack of access to healthy fresh food contributes to the cycle of health disparities and obesity facing lower income children in inner city America. The aim of this project was to break the cycle of health disparities resulting from poor understanding of nutrition and limited access to nutritious foods. As a pilot study, an intervention was planned and executed targeting high school students in inner city Atlanta, Georgia.

Disparities in Atlanta and food deserts

Several economic, social, and health disparities plague the Atlanta area. Eighteen percent of Georgia's residents live at or below the poverty line, which is an increase of almost one million more people experiencing poverty since 2000 (1). Twenty-eight percent of Georgia's children live in food insecure households, and cannot afford to buy healthy food on a regular basis (2). This leads to what is known as a "food desert." A food desert is an urban area in which it is difficult to buy affordable or good-quality fresh food (3). There are many factors that contribute to food deserts, including environmental factors that affect local growing efforts such as soil, climate, and space, behavioral factors which impact communities' acknowledgement of food related issues in their area and educational factors that reflect consumer's knowledge of healthy food choices. A food desert results from limited food options, supermarket wars, and the lack of knowledge and choice when it comes to food choices, especially in lower income areas. Food deserts contribute to increasing obesity rates, as well as unhealthy eating habits because of limited access to fresh and or affordable produce. Access to fresh food is strongly correlated with economic status and low income communities have limited access to healthier food options (3). This statewide issue is reflected at the local level in Atlanta where significant gaps in neighborhood food availability exist. There are 35 food deserts located inside Atlanta's perimeter, impacting two million Georgia residents, including 500,000 children who live in food deserts (2).

Urban gardening

The concept of urban gardening is that fresh food can be grown locally, even within the confines of the city. Urban gardens are focused around cultivating, processing and distributing food in a town or city setting, making the necessary accommodations in order to grow produce in an unconventional agricultural setting. Urban gardening has been shown to help combat food deserts (4). Urban gardening also has been shown to promote greater community collaboration while producing home grown, healthy food that is accessible and affordable (5, 6).

Previous cases studies

Previous studies have shown that urban gardening increases nutritional food intake and helps individuals develop an appreciation and knowledge of healthy habits. Urban gardening increases children's connection with their food, which results in an improved awareness of the nutritional content of the foods that they eat. It introduces them to new choices, allowing them to gain access to healthy fresh food that in many areas are difficult to obtain. Urban gardening brings communities together, can reduce crime, and promotes obtainable healthy life options (7).

According to an article entitled "A garden pilot project enhances fruit and vegetable consumption among children" (7), children who grow their own produce are more likely to eat healthier, because they are connected to the food they grow. They describe a program titled "Delicious and Nutritious Garden" created in Emmaus, Pennsylvania. During the course of this 12-week program, 4th through 6th graders worked in a garden and created healthy snacks out of the produce they helped to cultivate. By the end of the study, they found that, "98 percent of kids said they liked the taste tests, 93 percent said they liked the cooking aspect, 96 percent liked working in the garden, and 91 percent said they actually enjoyed learning about fruits and vegetables". …

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