Increasing Prevalence of US Elementary School Gardens, but Disparities Reduce Opportunities for Disadvantaged Students

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Background: We examined the prevalence of school garden programs at US public elementary schools. The study examined time trends, demographic and regional disparities, and associations with related programs such as farm-to-school.

Methods: Annual surveys were gathered from nationally representative samples of elementary schools between 2006-2007 and 2013-2014. Annual samples ranged from 553 to 748 schools.

Results: The prevalence of gardens increased steadily from 11.9% in 2006-2007 to 31.2% in 2013-2014 (p < .001). In multivariate logistic regressions the prevalence of garden programs varied significantly by school characteristics. Gardens were more prevalent in the west than in other regions. Gardens were less prevalent at schools serving higher proportions of lower-income students, and were more prevalent at urban schools than in suburbs, towns, or rural areas. Gardens were more common at schools with farm-to-school programs. Gardens also were associated with offering formal classroom-based nutrition education.

Conclusions: Garden programs in elementary schools have increased over time, but there is room for wider implementation, particularly at schools serving lower-income students. Given the role of childhood in establishing food preferences and dietary consumption habits, such programs are important and can reinforce the messages imparted through nutrition education.