The impact of a cooking and gardening summer camp experience on the fruit and vegetable consumption of elementary school-aged children

Jessica Ashley Kirk, The University of Texas School of Public Health


Childhood obesity is a significant public health problem. Over 15 percent of children in the United States are obese, and about 25 percent of children in Texas are overweight (CDC NHANES). Furthermore, about 30 percent of elementary school aged children in Harris County, Texas are overweight or obese (Children at Risk Institute 2010). In addition to actions such as increasing physical activity, decreasing television watching and video game time, decreasing snacking on low nutrient calorie dense foods and sugar sweetened beverages, children need to consume more fruits and vegetables. According to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) from 2002, about 26 percent of U.S. children are meeting the recommendations for daily fruit intake and about 16 percent are meeting the recommendations for daily vegetable intake (CDC NHANES). In 2004, the average total intake of vegetables was 0.9 cups per day and 1.1 cups of fruit per day by children ages four to nine years old in the U.S. (CDC NHANES). Not only do children need effective nutrition education to learn about fruits and vegetables, they also need access and repeated exposure to fruits and vegetables (Anderson 2009, Briefel 2009). Nutrition education interventions that provide a structured, hands-on curriculum such as school gardens have produced significant changes in child fruit and vegetable intake (Blair 2009, McAleese 2007). To prevent childhood obesity from continuing into adolescence and adulthood, effective nutrition education interventions need to be implemented immediately and for the long-term. However, research has shown short-term nutrition education interventions such as summer camps to be effective for significant changes in child fruit and vegetable intake, preferences, and knowledge (Heim 2009). A four week summer camp based on cooking and gardening was implemented at 6 Multi-Service centers in a large, urban city. The participants included children ranging in age from 7 to 14 years old (n=64). The purpose of the camp was to introduce children to their food from the seed to the plate through the utilization of gardening and culinary exercises. The summer camp activities were aimed at increasing the children's exposure, willingness to try, preferences, knowledge, and intake of fruits and vegetables. A survey was given on the first day of camp and again on the last day of camp that measured the pre- and post differences in knowledge, intake, willingness to try, and preferences of fruits and vegetables. The present study examined the short-term effectiveness of a cooking and garden-based nutrition education program on the knowledge, willingness, preferences, and intake among children aged 8 to 13 years old (n=40). The final sample of participants (n=40) was controlled for those who completed pre- and post-test surveys and who were in or above the third grade level. Results showed a statistically significant increase in the reported intake of vegetables and preferences for vegetables, specifically green beans, and fruits. There was also a significant increase in preferences for fruits among boys and participants ages 11 to 13 years. The results showed a change in the expected direction of willingness to try, preferences for vegetables, and intake of fruit, however these were not statistically significant. Interestingly, the results also showed a decrease in the intake of low nutrient calorie dense foods such as sweets and candy.

Subject Area

Agricultural education|Nutrition

Recommended Citation

Kirk, Jessica Ashley, "The impact of a cooking and gardening summer camp experience on the fruit and vegetable consumption of elementary school-aged children" (2012). Texas Medical Center Dissertations (via ProQuest). AAI1515594.