There is a growing body of research supporting the joy of gardening, from its positive effects as a mental health activity to its association with improved cognitive function and reduced stress. , anger, and fatigue.
Those who dug their hands into the soil and collected the harvest at the end of summer can confirm what they got from the experience.
Now, a first-of-its-kind randomized controlled trial shows that community garden participation is associated with reduced cancer risk.
Jill Litt, PhD, professor of environmental education at CU Boulder, a member of the University of Colorado Cancer Center, led research recently published in The Lancet Planetary Health and funded by the American Cancer Society that shows an association between community gardening and increased fiber intake and body exercise, and reducing stress and anxiety, all of which have been shown to reduce cancer and disease in forever.
“One of the things I like about this research is that it gives us good scientific evidence for something that many people think is good for gardening. you,” explained Litt, who is in Barcelona, as a senior researcher at the Institute for Global Health.
Data collection in the field
Litt, an oncologist, came to this work through early research on alcohol and cancer in Baltimore, Maryland. While studying the clean-up and redevelopment of the urban landscape, as well as policy decisions regarding the inclusion of greenery in the redevelopment, he found it means how that country can benefit the communities.
Jill Litt, PhD (first) working in a community garden. (photo by Glenn Asakawa/CU)
After attending CU, he was contacted by Julie Marshall, PhD, professor emeritus of epidemiology at the Colorado School of Public Health, about an opportunity to collaborate on research with Denver Urban Gardens.
“Michael Buchenau, director of Denver Urban Gardens, said, ‘We have this system of urban gardens, we think they have benefits, but we have not studied it in a scientific and scientific way to collect the Information about health and wellness.'” Litt recalled. “I was able to work with John Brett, a food anthropologist at CU Denver, and we did some interesting management data.”
Supported by a K award from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Litt collaborated with experts in architecture, urban design, urban planning, land use, and social science to understand the needs health and social care of the community garden using the garden of the same species. population studies in Denver.
“We’ve been able to publish a lot of papers, but research still knows the limitations of observational studies,” Litt said. “Therefore, we asked for the research to be run like a clinical trial, with equal adherence to blinding, quality control, and quality assurance procedures.”
Studying research results
Litt worked with Cathy Bradley, PhD, vice director of the CU Cancer Center, and other partners to push this research idea above the financial line. They developed an experiment in which 291 parents were recruited from the Denver metro area and assigned to treatment and control groups. Participants had to be at least 18 years old and had not planted a garden in the past two years, and the researchers were blinded to the group classification.
People in the community garden group have access to seeds and plants, a free community garden plot, and a beginner’s garden course. Those in the control group were asked to wait a year to start farming, and then received a garden plot as a reward for their participation.
Participants in both groups took observations in the spring, fall, and winter about their food intake, health status, social activities, and environmental interactions. , and mental health; wear performance monitors; and provide physical measurements. The average age of the participants was 41, more than half were from low-income families, and more than a third identified as Hispanic.
The study was conducted in three one-year waves with approximately 100 participants in each wave, and the researchers looked at three outcome areas: diet, physical activity, and mental health. . Analyzing the data, Litt and his colleagues found that those in the garden group, compared to those in the control group, ate 1.4 grams more fiber per day, did 5.8 minutes of physical activity per day. , and showed greater reductions in depression and anxiety.
Agriculture and quality
“I was very impressed with the difficulty of this study,” Litt said. “We’ve learned a lot about how we lead, and we’ve had times when people come in for reviews and we have to hold them at the door because they’re carrying boxes of their gift. On the other hand, as humans, it is very wonderful, but it is important that we maintain our blindness.
Jill Litt, PhD, (wearing denim) works in a community garden. (photo by Glenn Asakawa/CU)
The data collected in the study are consistent with previous studies showing that gardening is associated with positive health outcomes, including effects on risk factors for cancer. Litt said he wanted to follow the research group, more than half continued to farm in community gardens and another quarter started farming at home.
“One thing I like about this research is the concept of ‘health’,” said Litt. “In general, people don’t farm because they say, ‘I want to be healthy,’ but more because they want to interact with the world and it’s good for them. we often hear, ‘I want to get my hands dirty.’ I can tell you how to say it in 20 words. It’s good for people and they enjoy seeing things develop.
“If you look at self-determination and work from this point of view of trying to find out what motivates people, what they find, then the garden is a good example. before teaching people and telling them what to do, telling them to change their behavior, if we start from a place, ‘What do you want to do?’ then farming becomes an attempt to make a good living.”