Cornell Study Shows School Gardens Boost Youth Activity Levels

Ithaca, NY (March 20, 2014) – A two-year Cornell study of 12 elementary schools in five New York regions finds that kids at schools with gardens increased their activity levels. Students at schools with gardens were moderately physically active at school for 10 more minutes a week than before their schools had gardens–an increase of four times what peers experienced at gardenless schools.

FRANKFORT.C.G.9In addition, children who gardened at school were substantially less sedentary at home and elsewhere than their counterparts. Environmental psychologist Nancy Wells, associate professor of design and environmental analysis in Cornell’s College of Human Ecology, presented the findings this month at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Active Living Research Conference.

With nearly one in three American children overweight or obese, school gardens could prove a simple, low-cost way to get kids more active and fight obesity. Get the Community Groves℠ Guidebook and other resources to learn more about how to establish fruit and nut trees in schools and other public spaces.

“This is the first true experiment to measure the effects of school gardens on children’s physical activity, and we found a significant increase,” Wells said. “It is notable that in our intervention, kids were only spending an hour or two per week in the gardens, yet there was a significant difference in physical activity. The findings suggest that if schools embraced gardens further and integrated them into lesson plans, there might be an even greater effect.”

NNWM13Contest1Schools in six New York counties (Delaware, Monroe, Rockland, Schenectady, Suffolk and Wayne), working with leaders in the Urban Environment Program at Cornell University Cooperative Extension-New York City, planted gardens as part of the national U.S. Department of Agriculture Healthy Gardens, Healthy Youth project. Wells leads the research for the project, which includes schools in Arkansas, Iowa and Washington and is testing how such gardens influence kids’ preferences for and knowledge and consumption of fruits and vegetables.

Learning in a garden induced children to be “significantly more physically active” compared to an indoor class, said Beth Myers, a doctoral student in the field of design and environmental analysis who assisted with the study. On average, children sat for 84% and stood for 10% of an indoor class. During garden lessons, kids moved about much more, sitting for only 15% of the time, with the majority of their time spent standing, walking and kneeling.

The study, not yet published, was supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Active Living Research Program, the USDA Food and Nutrition Service and Cornell’s David R. Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future. More on the grant.

Read the news release published in Cornell Chronicle, “School gardens grow kids’ physical activity levels.”
Read the “Research Brief”: School Gardens Promote Children’s Physical Activity