Third graders are learning how to create vegetable gardens and prepare meals from their crops in the “Texas Grow! Eat! Go!” initiative, part of a 5-year, $5 million study funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and headed by Judy Warren, a faculty fellow at Texas A&M’s Center for Health Systems & Design. The study is gauging the impact of intervention programs on childhood obesity.
With the help of parent volunteers and resources from the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, where Warren is a special initiatives coordinator, children in participating Texas schools will be planting spinach, cauliflower, broccoli and other vegetables in the fall, and tomatoes, sugar snap peas and lettuce and other vegetables in the spring, and incorporating the veggies in their home meals.
Many parent volunteers will be given cylinder gardens — similar to five-gallon containers with the bottoms cut off and filled with nutrient-rich soil — to grow vegetables at home.
Warren and her research partners will track approximately 1,600 parent-student pairs and measure the students in several areas, including fruit and vegetable intake, physical activity and body mass index.
Study results will build on current knowledge about effective childhood obesity interventions and could provide evidence-based strategies for future projects.
"This isn't so much about nutrition facts as it is to get kids to taste nutritious foods and enjoy them," said Alexandra Evans, co-principal investigator and associate professor at the University of Texas School of Public Health, one of the study’s partners. "Incorporating experiential learning can be effective in improving health-related behaviors.”
The study is part of an overall strategy engaging school leaders, volunteers and local AgriLife Extension educators, said Warren.
"We are focused on the school community, getting the kids involved at school, and engaging the whole family in being healthy through food choices and being more active together,” she said.
The study’s partners include the Texas A&M Health Science Center's School of Rural Public Health, the departments of health & kinesiology and sociology, the Institute of Obesity Research and Program Evaluation, and the University of Texas’ Michael and Susan Dell Center for Healthy Living.
The Center for Health Systems & Design at the Texas A&M College of Architecture promotes research, teaching, and communication in an interdisciplinary program that focuses on health facility planning and design. Research interests of faculty associates range from the effects of environmental stress on patients’ well-being and health to evidence-based design of hospitals, nursing homes, neighborhood clinics, healing gardens, accessible communities, and healthy cities.