The power of chores! Gardening and cooking lower kids’ blood-sugar and cholesterol levels
- Children enrolled in the gardening and nutrition program had lower blood sugar
- The pilot program in Texas also helped reduce children’s ‘bad’ cholesterol levels
- They participated in nutrition classes that boosted their fruit and veggie intake
Making children do chores teaches them life skills that they need succeed later in life – but now a study suggests they also have a direct benefit to their health.
Gardening and cooking classes at school was shown to lower blood sugar and cholesterol levels in kids as young as seven years old.
Researchers are hopeful these chores can not only teach children valuable life skills but also improve their nutritional health.
The program, dubbed ‘Texas Sprouts’, is good news in the face of a growing pediatric obesity crisis that worsened during the pandemic as children were forced to isolate from friends and activities that keep them fit.
Texas Sprouts schools saw a 0.02 per cent reduction in HbA1c, or mean blood sugar levels over the past three months, and a 6.4 mg/dL reduction in LDL or ‘bad’ cholesterol
‘School-based gardening programs improve dietary intake, academic performance, and reduce metabolic diseases in even the most high-risk minority pediatric populations,’ researchers wrote in the study, published Tuesday in JAMA Network Open.
The Texas Sprouts began in 2016, while a second groups of the same number of schools launched soon after. All were in the Austin, Texas, area.
The program spanned the nine-month school year and involved the formation of a Garden Leadership Committee – and a quarter-acre outdoor garden to teach children.
Full time educators taught 18 one-hour gardening lessons separately to each third- to fifth-grade class throughout the year as part of the normal school curriculum.
In addition to learning plant cultivations and environmental science, the children learned key nutrition lessons that included healthy cooking of fruits and veggies and how to make smart food decisions.
Parents were invited to the program so they could also brush up on proper nutrition.
As a result, these children ate more vegetables everyday compared to others, and also consumed more dietary fiber, which improves blood sugar control.
University of Texas researchers gathered data on children and parents that participated in the study at the start and end of the school year.
They measured students’ height, weight, and body mass index (BMI) parameters, as well as their glucose, insulin, insulin resistance, and a blood panel – which measures fat contents of the blood.
After controlling for outside factors, researchers found taking part in the activities made a child’s fasting blood sugar drop 13 percent more than children in other schools.
These students also has triglycerides levels drop 39 percent more than students in other schools, and HDL drop 74 percent more – both fats in the body linked to health issues when allowed to build up.
Dr Adriana Pérez, senior author of the study and professor of biostatistics at UTHealth Houston said: ‘Small increases in dietary fiber and vegetable intake, as well as reductions in added sugar intake, may have combined effects on lowering bad cholesterol and improving glucose control.’
The researchers who designed the program acknowledged that the decline in mean hemoglobin A1c – linked to blood sugar levels – was ‘rather small’ – falling 0.02 percent – even a small decline is significant.
Lower A1c levels are linked with a smaller risk of developing diabetes and ‘microvascular’ complications, such as kidney disease, vision loss, and nerve damage.
The researchers concluded: ‘These findings provide direct evidence to help encourage policy makers, administrators, and school district personnel to adopt and/or support garden-based learning into elementary schools.’
The program’s success and scalability suggests that many schools could benefit from a gardening and nutrition program, researchers say.
It could be especially be valuable for students in low income areas.