Feasibility of an Experiential Community Garden and Nutrition Program for Youth Living in Public Housing:Exploring Outcomes from Youth, Parents and Site Leaders
Grier, Karissa Niphore
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Background: Community gardens have existed in America since the late 1800s and have served multiple purposes from food subsidies to neighborhood beautification. The use of community gardens has grown in popularity and has been recommended as a way to encourage healthy eating habits in youth. Though the health benefits of having a diet high in fruits and vegetables is well known, youth in the United States do not meet recommendations for fruit and vegetable intake. Under-consumption of fruits and vegetables is problematic in youth, as eating habits are established in childhood. Community gardens have been successfully used to improve access, self-efficacy, preference, and consumption of fruits and vegetables. However, few published community garden studies have focused on low socioeconomic youth. The Dan River Partnership for a Healthy Community (DRPHC) was developed according to community-based participatory research (CBPR) principles. With a mission to reduce obesity using healthy lifestyle initiatives, community gardens are an evolving DRPHC initiative. Objective: To evaluate the feasibility (i.e., demand, acceptability, implementation, and limited-effectiveness testing) of a 10-week experiential theory-based gardening and nutrition education program targeting youth living in two public housing sites in the Dan River Region. Methods: Using pre- and post-program questionnaires/interviews, demand and acceptability were measured among youth, parents and site leaders. Implementation was measures via field notes and attendance. Limited-effectiveness was measured among youth using a pre-post design. Three researchers independently coded the qualitative transcripts, met to resolve disagreements, and built consensus through discussion of the codes. Similarly, field notes were reviewed and evaluated for reoccurring themes regarding barriers, facilitators, and other observations. For the quantitative measures, descriptive statistics were used to summarize the variables and Cronbach's alphas used to assess the reliability of each scale at baseline. Overall effects were tested with repeated measures ANOVA. An intent-to-treat analysis using the last observation carried forward method was used. A critical value of .05 was used for significance testing. A standard equation for reporting effect sizes on a single-group, pre-post study design is also reported. Results: Program enrollment included 43 youth, primarily African American. The positive demand and acceptability findings indicate the potential of the program to be used and suitable for the youth, parents, and site leaders. Field notes revealed numerous implementation facilitators and barriers. Youth weekly attendance averaged 4.6 of 10 sessions. Significant improvements (p<0.05) were found for some (e.g., FV asking self-efficacy, overall gardening knowledge, knowledge of MyPlate recommendations), but not all limited-effectiveness measures (e.g., willingness to try FV, FV eating self-efficacy). Study Implications: This study addresses recommendations for utilizing CBPR in community garden efforts and builds on community identified research priorities of the DRPHC. Results demonstrate the feasibility of a gardening and nutrition program targeting youth in public housing. Lessons learned are being used to adapt and strengthen the program for future efforts targeting FV behaviors. Findings will be shared with local community stakeholders and used to adapt and strengthen the program for future efforts in the Dan River Region targeting of fruit and vegetable behaviors.
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