School gardens are a popular strategy to increase preference and consumption of fruits and vegetables (FV). The Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act (HHFKA) of 2010 supported implementation of school gardens for promoting FV consumption. Current research lacks longitudinal assessments of changes in prevalence of school gardens over time.
In this study, we examine the prevalence of school gardens over time by school level factors before and after the implementation of the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act (HHFKA).
We used data from the New Jersey Child Health Study (NJCHS) conducted in 4 low-income NJ cities. Information on school garden prevalence was collected from all schools (n = 148) in the 4 study cities for school years between 2010-11 and 2017-18.
Prevalence of school gardens was calculated for each school year over the study period. Multivariable analysis estimated changes in prevalence of school gardens over time adjusting for school-level factors including, school level (elementary vs middle/high), enrolled students’ race/ethnicity, and enrolled students’ eligibility for free and reduced-price meals (FRPM).
There were 97 elementary and 51 middle/high schools in the sample. In 2010-11, 19% of all K-12 schools participated in school gardens. Multivariate analysis showed that after adjusting for school-level factors, compared to 2010-11, a higher proportion of schools reported having a garden in 2013-14 (29%, P = 0.055), 2014-15 (31%, P = 0.018), and in 2016-17 (31%, P = 0.051). Schools with majority Hispanic student enrollment had less than half the odds of having a garden compared to schools with majority Black students (P = 0.045). There were no differences in garden prevalence between elementary and middle/high schools or FRPM eligibility.
School garden presence showed patterns of increasing prevalence over time, especially in the years following the HHFKA. Future research should examine the reasons for differences in prevalence of gardens in schools with racially and ethnically diverse student populations over multiple time points.