Running head: ALLOTMENT GARDENING
Body Image Benefits of Allotment Gardening
1School of Psychology and Sport Science, Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge, UK
2Centre for Psychological Medicine, Perdana University, Serdang, Malaysia
Address for correspondence: Prof. Viren Swami, School of Psychology and Sport Science,
Anglia Ruskin University, East Road, Cambridge, Cambridgeshire CB1 1PT, United
Kingdom. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Allotment gardening – where individuals rent a small plot of land in a public space separated
from the home – has been shown to improve psychological well-being and physical health.
However, the impact of allotment gardening on body image has not been previously assessed,
despite evidence that exposure to natural environments elevates positive body image. Here, a
sample of 84 allotment gardeners from London, United Kingdom, were asked to complete a
measure of state body image before and after spending time on their allotments. They were
also asked to complete several measures of trait positive body image – namely, body
appreciation, functionality appreciation, and body pride – selected to provide broad coverage
of the positive body image construct. These data were compared to scores from a matched,
non-gardener control group (n = 81). Results indicated that allotment gardening resulted in
significantly improved state body image and that longer time spent on the allotment was
associated with larger improvements. In addition, between-group analyses indicated that
allotment gardeners had significantly higher positive body image than non-gardeners across
all included indices. These results corroborate previous work suggesting that exposure to
natural environments brings real benefits in terms of positive body image. Ensuring that these
benefits are experienced by all requires policies that provide for dedicated and sustained
community allotment plots.
Keywords: Allotment gardening; Positive body image; Nature exposure; Body
appreciation; Functionality appreciation; Body pride
The construct of positive body image refers to an “overarching love and respect for
the body” and includes an appreciation of the body and its functions, acceptance of the body
despite its imperfections, and body-protective behaviours (Tylka, 2018, p. 9). In this
perspective, positive body image is not merely the absence, or the polar opposite, of negative
body image (e.g., body dissatisfaction) (Webb, Wood-Barcalow, & Tylka, 2015). Instead, the
construct of positive body image represents an independent and multi-faceted construct that is
uniquely associated with indices of psychological and physical well-being, including self-
esteem, life satisfaction, positive self-care health behaviours, and adaptive eating behaviours
(for reviews, see Tylka, 2018, 2019; Tylka & Wood-Barcalow, 2015a). This, in turn, means
that the promotion of more positive body image offers a useful means of fostering
psychological and physical resilience, contributing to well-being, and allowing individuals to
thrive (Tylka, 2019). In order to achieve these outcomes, it is vital to develop interventions
that promote positive body image rather than simply reduce negative body image (Guest et
al., 2019; Webb et al., 2015).
One method that could potentially be effective at promoting positive body image is
exposure to natural environments. Within the broader literature, the salutogenic effects of
natural environments on human health and well-being are well documented (e.g., Collado,
Staats, Corraliza, & Hartig, 2017; Frumkin et al., 2017), but recent work has noted that such
effects also extend to positive body image. For example, cross-sectional studies have reported
that greater exposure to natural environments is significantly associated with facets of
positive body image, such as body appreciation and functionality appreciation (Mitten &
D’Amore, 2018; Swami et al., 2019; Swami, Barron, Weis, & Furnham, 2016). Experimental
research has likewise shown that exposure to isomorphic nature – presented in the form of
photographs of natural environments (Swami, Barron, & Furnham, 2018) and a film of a
first-person walk in nature (Swami, Pickering, Barron, & Patel, 2018) – produces elevations
in state positive body image. Finally, exposure to real natural environments – operationalised
as walks in nature or time spent in a designed green space (Swami, Barron et al., 2018) – has
also been shown to improve state positive body image.
Capitalising on these effects requires that citizens have easy access to natural
environments, but increasing urbanisation has meant that many people are exposed to
reduced levels of nature (Turner, Nakamura, & Dinetti, 2004). Gardening provides an
opportunity for urban dwellers to have regular contact with nature and has been found to
improve physiological health, elevate positive mood, encourage physical activity, and
promote better psychological well-being (for reviews, see Ohly et al., 2016; Soga, Gaston, &
Yamaura, 2017). However, many homes in the United Kingdom do not have access to
domestic gardens (Davies, Fuller, Loram, Irvine, Sims, & Gaston, 2009) and garden coverage
is diminishing due to backland development and urban sprawl (Goode, 2006). In this context,
urban allotment gardening – where individuals rent a small plot of land in a public space
separated from the home to grow fruit and vegetables for personal consumption (Bell et al.,
2016) – takes on renewed importance and, perhaps unsurprisingly, has witnessed a resurgence
in popularity in the United Kingdom (Campbell & Campbell, 2013).
Recent studies (e.g., Clatworthy, Hinds, Camic, 2017; van den Berg, van Winsum-
Westra, de Vried, & van Dillen, 2010; Wood, Pretty, & Griffin, 2016) and a systematic review
(Genter, Roberts, Richardson, & Sheaff, 2015) have indicated that allotment gardening has
the potential to improve health and psychological well-being. To date, however, most studies
have utilised specific subsets of the population (e.g., individuals experiencing mental health
conditions rather than allotment holders in general; Genter et al., 2015), have not utilised
comparison groups (e.g., non-gardeners; Wood et al., 2016), and – importantly – have not
examined the impact of allotment gardening on body image. To rectify these oversights, the
present study examined the effect of allotment gardening on state body image in a sample of
allotment gardeners. It was hypothesised that allotment gardening would result in
significantly improved state body image in this sample. In addition, trait positive body image
in this group was compared with a matched, non-gardener control group, with the expectation
that scores would be significantly higher in the former.
One-hundred and sixty-five participants, of whom 84 were allotment gardeners and 81
were non-gardeners, volunteered to take part in the study. Participants ranged in age from 20
to 82 years (M = 44.70, SD = 18.16) and in self-reported body mass index (BMI) from 16.32
to 48.05 kg/m2 (M = 25.53, SD = 5.38). Of the total sample, 60% were women and the
majority were married (73.9%), in full-time employment (55.2%), and of British White
2.2.1. State body image. The allotment gardeners were asked to complete a measure
of state body image pre- and post-session. To operationalise state body image, a visual
analogue scale was used, with participants rating their satisfaction with their overall
appearance on a 100-milimeter line anchored by two extremes (extreme dissatisfaction to
extreme satisfaction) (Heinberg & Thompson, 1995). Responses were measured to the nearest
millimetre, with higher scores reflecting greater satisfaction with overall appearance at that
moment in time. Visual analogue scales have been shown to have good construct validity and
are sensitive to short-term changes (Heinberg & Thompson, 1995).
2.2.2. Trait body image. To measure trait body image, gardeners and non-gardeners
were asked to complete three measures of positive body image. The first was the Body
Appreciation Scale-2 (Tylka & Wood-Barcalow, 2015b), a 10-item measure of acceptance of
one’s body, respect and care for one’s body, and protection of one’s body image from
unrealistic beauty standards. Items were rated on a 5-point scale (1 = never, 5 = always), with
higher mean scores reflecting higher body appreciation. The second measure was the
Functionality Appreciation Scale (Alleva, Tylka, & Kroon van Diest, 2017), a 7-item measure
of one’s appreciation for what the body does and can do. All items were rated on a 5-point
scale, ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree), and higher mean scores reflect
greater functionality appreciation. The final measure was the 6-item Authentic Pride subscale
of the Body and Appearance Self-Conscious Emotions Scale (Castonguay, Sabiston, Crocker,
& Mack, 2014), which measures body pride as a sense of personal appearance-related
achievement. Items on this subscale were rated on a 5-point scale (1 = Never, to 5 = Always)
and scores were averaged so that higher scores reflect greater authentic body pride. All three
instruments have been shown to have adequate psychometric properties (Alleva et al., 2017;
Castonguay et al., 2014; Tylka & Wood-Barcalow, 2015b). In the present study, all internal
consistencies were adequate across measures and across groups (all ω ≥ .89).
2.2.3. Additional measures. Both groups were asked to provide their demographic
details consisting of sex, age, relationship status, employment status, ethnicity, height, and
weight. Height and weight were used to compute self-reported BMI as kg/m2. The gardener
group were also asked to report the time spent on the allotment during the testing session in
minutes and to report the tenure of their allotment in months.
Ethics approval was obtained from the relevant departmental ethics committee.
Between April and September 2018, allotment gardeners were recruited from twelve
allotment sites in north London, United Kingdom. Inclusion criteria included having a
tenured allotment, being a United Kingdom resident, being of adult age, and self-reported
fluency in English. In addition, only one participant was permitted per allotment. These
participants were recruited via direct approach and were provided with brief information
about the study. Individuals who agreed to take part in the study provided written informed
consent and completed a pre-session questionnaire consisting of the VAS. Upon exit of the
allotment, they were asked to complete a second questionnaire consisting of the post-session
VAS, the measures of trait body image, and demographic items.
To recruit a matched control group of non-gardeners, the procedure established by
Wood and colleagues (2016) was followed, which involved recruiting participants from eight
supermarkets located closest to the allotment sites. Non-gardeners were identified by verbally
asking individuals if they gardened and indicating that eligibility required that they “do not
do anything in the garden” (Wood et al., 2016). Individuals who were eligible and met
additional inclusion criteria (being a United Kingdom resident, being of adult age, and self-
reported fluency in English) were provided with brief information about the study. Those who
agreed to participate provided written informed consent and completed a single questionnaire
containing the measures of trait body image and demographic items. All participants across
both groups took part on a voluntary basis, were not remunerated, and were provided with
written debrief information.
3.1. Impact of Allotment Gardening on State Body Image
To examine the impact of allotment gardening on state body image, a paired-samples
t-test was computed with VAS scores. Results indicated a significant increase in VAS scores
from pre-session (M = 52.95, SD = 18.84) to post-session (M = 62.64, SD = 16.81), t(83) =
4.86, p < .001, dependence-corrected d = 0.53. The mean length of tenure on the allotments
was 58.12 months (SD = 21.00) and the mean session length was 153.30 minutes (SD =
120.82). To examine whether these variables had an impact on state body image change, the
difference between pre- and post-session VAS scores was first computed. Next, a linear
multiple regression was computed with the VAS difference score as the criterion variable and
tenure and session length, respectively as predictor variables. The regression was significant,
F(2, 83) = 27.07, p < .001, Adj. R2 = .39. Longer session duration was associated with greater
state body image change (r = .62, B = .09, SE = .01, β = .61, t = 7.04, p < .001), but not
tenure (r = .18, B = .10, SE = .08, β = .12, t = 1.38, p = .175).
3.2. Comparison of Allotment Gardeners and Non-Gardeners
Independent-samples t-tests indicated no significant differences between allotment
gardeners and non-gardeners in terms of age, t(163) = 1.07, p = .287, d = 0.17, and self-
reported BMI, t(163) = 0.48, p = .633, d = 0.08. There were also no significant differences
across groups in the distribution of sex, χ2(1) = 0.02, p = .899, relationship status, χ2(4) =
3.38, p = .496, occupational status, χ2(4) = 7.48, p = .113, and ethnicity, χ2(3) = 0.49, p = .922.
These results suggest that the two groups were adequately matched in terms of these
demographic criteria. Next, to test whether there were between-group differences in trait
positive body image, a series of Bonferroni-corrected (p = .05/3 = .016) independent-samples
t-tests were computed. Results indicated that, compared to the non-gardeners, the gardener
group had significantly higher body appreciation (gardener M = 3.47, SD = 0.75; non-
gardener M = 3.08, SD = 0.81), t(163) = 3.25, p = .001, d = 0.51, functionality appreciation
(gardener M = 3.54, SD = 0.68; non-gardener M = 3.16, SD = 0.82), t(163) = 3.32, p = .001, d
= 0.52, and body pride (gardener M = 3.11, SD = 0.89; non-gardener M = 2.62, SD = 0.93),
t(163) = 3.46, p = .001, d = 0.54.
There were two important findings in the present study. First, it was found that
spending time on an allotment resulted in significantly improved state body satisfaction in a
sample of gardeners. This finding is consistent with previous work showing that direct
exposure to real nature results in significant improvements to state body image (Swami,
Barron et al., 2018), as well as studies indicating that allotment gardening has positive effects
on psychological well-being (e.g., Clatworthy et al., 2017; van den Berg et al., 2010; Wood et
al., 2016). The present finding is important in light of increasing urbanisation and the costs of
urban living in terms of psychological well-being, as well as the decline in garden coverage
in homes in the United Kingdom (Davies et al., 2009). It might be suggested allotment
gardening is a useful means of promoting not just general psychological well-being, but also
more positive body image, for people living in urban areas. Importantly, the present study
also showed that time spent on the allotment on a single visit was significantly associated
with larger increases in state positive body image. This result is consistent with other research
showing that the amount of time spent on allotments is associated with higher psychological
well-being (Webber, Hinds, & Camic, 2015) and points to possible dose-response effects (see
Pasanen, Ojala, Tyrväinen, & Korpela, 2018).
This suggestion is consistent with the second important finding of the present study,
namely that allotment gardeners had significantly higher trait positive body image – as
assessed through multiple instruments – compared to a matched, non-gardener control group.
This fits with previous research indicating that allotment gardeners had significantly higher
life satisfaction and self-esteem, better overall health, and fewer symptoms of depression and
reduced loneliness compared to non-gardeners (van den Berg et al., 2010; Wood et al., 2016).
Understanding mechanistic pathways that lead to these differences is difficult to ascertain
through cross-sectional data alone, but taken together the present data suggest that time spent
on allotments may contribute to short-term elevations in state body image, which in turn
contribute to improved trait positive body image in the longer-term. Of course, there may be
additional pathways through which these benefits are realised, such as the provision of
meaningful activity that influence feelings of connectedness to nature and to others, greater
self-compassion, and improved physical activity and health (Swami, Barron et al., 2018,
2019; Webber et al., 2015). Understanding how allotment gardening contributes to more
positive body image may be facilitated in the future through qualitative research.
A number of limitations of the present study limits the conclusions that can be drawn
at present. First, although attempts were made to recruit matched samples of gardeners and
non-gardeners, it is possible that between-group differences were an artefact of questionnaire
completion (i.e., completing the questionnaire on an allotment versus at a supermarket or
because of mood differences during testing). Second, the lack of a control makes it difficult to
know whether improvements in state body image were a function of allotment gardening or
other factors, though it should be noted that an active control group may be difficult to
conceptualise in the absence of further research. Third, because no additional measures were
included in the survey package, it is possible that the gardeners in particular were able to
guess the study hypothesis and thus responded in a socially desirable manner. Fourth,
although the two groups were well matched in terms of key demographic criteria, it may be
important in future research to consider additional covarying variables, such as social class,
income, and engagement in physical activities. Finally, the present results are limited to
allotment gardeners in a single locale in the United Kingdom and it is unclear to what extent
the same findings would be replicable in other locations and national groups.
Future studies could build on the present work in a number of other ways, primarily
through seeking to better understand mechanistic pathways that lead to improvements in body
image as a function of allotment gardening. One way to achieve this would be to include
possible mediating variables, such as connectedness to nature, self-esteem, self-compassion,
and trait mindfulness. In a similar vein, it would be useful to examine to what extent
allotment gardening results in reduced negative body image, as opposed to improvements in
positive body image (see Swami et al., 2016). Despite these omissions and the preliminary
nature of the present work, accumulating evidence suggests that allotment gardening – and
nature exposure more generally – has a host of benefits for psychological well-being (Genter
et al., 2015), including in terms of body image. Ensuring that opportunities for gardening are
available to all people is, therefore, vital and may help to reduce the long-term cost burden on
health services in the United Kingdom. One way to achieve this, beyond policies that ensure
access to green spaces for all citizens, would be through the provision of dedicated and
sustained community allotment plots.
Author Disclosure Statement
There are no conflicts of interest to declare.
Alleva, J. M., Tylka, T. L., & Kroon van Diest, A. M. (2017). The Functionality Appreciation
Scale (FAS): Development and psychometric evaluation in U.S. community women
and men. Body Image, 23, 28-44. doi:10.1016/j.bodyim.2017.07.008
Bell, S., Fox-Kämper, R., Keshavarz, N., Benson, M., Caputo, S., Noori, S., & Voight, A.
(Eds.). (2016). Urban allotment gardens in Europe. New York, NY: Routledge.
Campbell, M., & Campbell, I. (2013). Allotment waiting lists in England, 2013. Merseyside:
Transition Town West Kirby and The National Allotment Society.
Castonguay, A. L., Sabiston, C. M., Crocker, P. R. E., & Mack, D. E. (2014). Development
and validation of the Body and Appearance Self-Conscious Emotions Scale (BASES).
Body Image, 11, 126-136. doi:10.1016/j.bodyim.2013.12.006
Clatworthy, J., Hinds, J., & Camic, P. M. (2017). Exploring the relationship between
suburban allotment gardening and well-being: An interpretative phenomenological
analysis. Ecopsychology, 9, 121-129. doi:10.1089/eco.2016.0048
Collado, S., Staats, H., Corraliza, J. A., & Hartig, T. (2017). Restorative environments and
health. In O. Navarro, G. Fleury-Bahi, & E. Pol (Eds.), Handbook of environmental
psychology and quality of life research (pp. 127-148). New York, NY: Springer.
Davies, Z. G., Fuller, R. A., Loram, A., Irvine, K. N., Sims, V., & Gaston, K. J. (2009). A
national scale inventory of resource provision for biodiversity within domestic gardens.
Biological Conservation, 142, 761-771. doi:10.1016/j.biocon.2008.12.016
Frumkin, H., Bratman, G. N., Breslow, S. J., Cochran, B., Kahn Jr., P. H. Lawler, J. J., …
Wood, S. A. (2017). Nature contact and human health: A research agenda.
Environmental Health Perspectives, 125, 075001. doi:10.1289/EHP1663
Genter, C., Roberts, A., Richardson, J., & Sheaff, M. (2015). The contribution of allotment
gardening to health and wellbeing: A systematic review of the literature. British
Journal of Occupational Therapy, 78, 593-605. doi:10.1177/0308022615599408
Goode, D. (2006). Green infrastructure. London: Royal Commission on Environmental
Guest, E., Costa, B., Williamson, H., Meyrick, J., Halliwell, E., & Harcourt, D. (2019). The
effectiveness of interventions aiming to promote positive body image in adults: A
systematic review. Body Image, 30, 10-25. doi:10.1016/j.bodyim.2019.04.002
Hawkins, J. L., Mercer, J., Thirlaway, K. J., & Clayton, D. A. (2013). “Doing” gardening and
“being” at the allotment site: Exploring the benefits of allotment gardening for stress
reduction and healthy aging. Ecopsychology, 5, 110-125. doi:10.1089/eco.2012.0084
Heinberg, L. J., & Thompson, J. K. (1995). Body image and televised images of thinness and
attractiveness: A controlled laboratory investigation. Journal of Social and Clinical
Psychology, 14, 325-338. doi:10.1521/jscp.19184.108.40.2065
Mitten, S., & D’Amore, C. (2018). The nature of body image: The relationship between
women’s body image and physical activity in natural environments. In D. A. Vakoch &
S. Mickey (Eds.), Women and nature? Beyond dualism in gender, body, and
environment (pp. 96-116). London: Routledge.
Ohly, H., Gentry, S., Wigglesworth, R., Bethel, A., Lovell, R., & Garside, R. (2016). A
systematic review of the health and well-being impacts of school gardening: Synthesis
of quantitative and qualitative evidence. BMC Public Health, 16, 286.
Pasanen, T. P., Ojala, A., Tyrväinen, L., & Korpela, K. M. (2018). Restoration, well-being,
and everyday physical activity in indoor, built outdoor, and natural outdoor settings.
Journal of Environmental Psychology, 59, 85-93. doi:10.1016/j.jenvp.2018.08.014
Soga, M., Gaston, K. J., & Yamaura, Y. (2017). Gardening is beneficial for health: A meta-
analysis. Preventive Medicine Reports, 5, 92-99. doi:10.1016/j.pmedr.2016.11.007
Swami, V., Barron, D., & Furnham, A. (2018). Exposure to natural environments, and
photographs of natural environments, promotes more positive body image. Body Image,
24, 82-94. doi:10.1016/j.bodyim.2017.12.006
Swami, V., Barron, D., Hari, R., Grover, S., Smith, L., & Furnham, A. (2019). The nature of
positive body image: Examining associations between nature exposure, self-
compassion, functionality appreciation, and body appreciation. Manuscript submitted
Swami, V., Barron, D., Weis, L., & Furnham, A. (2016). Bodies in nature: Associations
between exposure to nature, connectedness to nature, and body image in U.S. adults.
Body Image, 18, 153-161. doi:10.1016/j.bodyim.2016.07.002
Swami, V., Pickering, M., Barron, D., & Patel, S. (2018). The impact of exposure to films of
natural and built environments on state body appreciation. Body Image, 26, 70-73.
Turner, W. R., Nakamura, T., & Dinetti, M. (2004). Global urbanization and the separation of
humans from nature. BioScience, 54, 585-590. doi:10.1641/0006-
Tylka, T. L. (2018). Overview of the field of positive body image. In E. A Daniels, M. M.
Gillen, & C. H. Markey (Eds.), Body positive: Understanding and improving body
image in science and practice (pp. 6-33). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Tylka, T. L. (2019). Body appreciation. In T. L. Tylka & N. Piran (Eds.), Handbook of
positive body image and embodiment: Constructs, protective factors, and interventions
(pp. 22-32). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Tylka, T. L., & Wood-Barcalow, N. L. (2015a). What is and what is not positive body image?
Conceptual foundations and construct definition. Body Image, 14, 118-129.
Tylka, T. L., & Wood-Barcalow, N. L. (2015b). The Body Appreciation Scale-2: Item
refinement and psychometric evaluation. Body Image, 12, 53-67.
van den Berg, A. E., van Winsum-Westra, M., de Vries, S., & van Dillen, S. M. (2010).
Allotment gardening and health: A comparative survey among allotment gardeners and
their neighbours without an allotment. Environmental Health, 9, 74. doi:10.1186/1476-
Webb, J. B., Wood-Barcalow, N. L., & Tylka, T. L. (2015). Assessing positive body image:
Contemporary approaches and future directions. Body Image, 14, 130-145.
Webber, J., Hinds, J., & Camic, P. M. (2015). The well-being of allotment gardeners: A mixed
methodological study. Ecopsychology, 7, 20-28. doi:10.1089/eco.2014.0058
Wood, C. J., Pretty, J., & Griffin, M. (2016). A case-control study of the health and well-being
benefits of allotment gardening. Journal of Public Health, 38, e336-e344.