Washington: People who participate in community gardening have a significantly lower body mass index, as well as lower odds of being overweight or obese, than their non-gardening neighbours, a new study has found.
"It has been shown previously that community gardens can provide a variety of social and nutritional benefits to neighborhoods. But until now, we did not have data to show a measurable health benefit for those who use the gardens," Cathleen Zick, lead author of the study and professor of family and consumer studies at the University of Utah said.
To gauge a health benefit, researchers used body mass index, or BMI, a calculation based on a person`s height and weight and which is widely used to screen for weight categories that may lead to health problems.
In general, a normal BMI ranges from 18.5 to 24.9; a smaller number is better than a larger one.
Results showed that women community gardeners had an average BMI 1.84 lower than their neighbors, which translates to an 11 pound weight difference for a woman 5 feet 5 inches tall.
For men, the BMI was lower by 2.36 for gardeners-a difference of 16 pounds for a man 5 feet 10 inches tall-compared to the neighborhood cohort.
Gardeners were also less likely to be overweight or obese - 46 percent less for women gardeners, and 62 percent less for men gardeners.
Researchers also looked at the BMIs of individuals related to the gardeners, namely siblings and spouses.
When compared to same sex siblings, a similar advantage to unrelated neighbors was found.
Women in the community gardening group had a BMI 1.88 lower than their sisters. For men, the difference was 1.33 lower for the gardeners compared to their brothers. Both differences were statistically significant.
For spouses of married gardeners, there was no difference in BMI or odds of being overweight or obese.
That finding was not surprising, as researchers had expected that spouses would benefit from eating food produced in the garden, and perhaps from helping out with the gardening activities.
The findings are published online in the American Journal of Public Health.