Research and Practice Innovations
LA Sprouts: A Gardening, Nutrition, and Cooking
Intervention for Latino Youth Improves Diet and
JAIMIE N. DAVIS, PhD, RD; EMILY E. VENTURA, MPH, PhD; LAUREN T. COOK; LAUREN E. GYLLENHAMMER;
NICOLE M. GATTO, MPH, PhD
Evidence demonstrates that a gardening and nutrition
intervention improves dietary intake in children, al-
though no study has evaluated the effect of this type of
intervention on obesity measures. The objective of this
pilot study was to develop and test the effects of a 12-
week, after-school gardening, nutrition, and cooking pro-
gram (called LA Sprouts) on dietary intake and obesity
risk in Latino fourth- and fifth-grade students in Los
Angeles, CA. One hundred four primarily Latino children
(mean age 9.8?0.7 years), 52% boys and 59% overweight,
completed the program (n?70 controls, n?34 LA Sprouts
participants). Weight, height, body mass index, waist cir-
cumference, body fat (via bioelectrical impendence), blood
pressure, and dietary intake (via food frequency screener)
were obtained at baseline and postintervention. LA
Sprouts participants received weekly 90-minute, cultur-
ally tailored, interactive classes for 12 consecutive weeks
during spring 2010 at a nearby community garden,
whereas control participants received an abbreviated de-
layed intervention. Compared to subjects in the control
group, LA Sprouts participants had increased dietary
fiber intake (?22% vs ?12%; P?0.04) and decreased di-
astolic blood pressure (?5% vs ?3%; P?0.04). For the
overweight subsample, LA Sprouts participants had a
significant change in dietary fiber intake (0% vs ?29%;
P?0.01), reduction in body mass index (?1% vs ?1%;
P?0.04) and less weight gain (?1% vs ?4%; P?0.03)
compared to those in the control group. We conclude that
a gardening, nutrition, and cooking intervention is a
promising approach to improve dietary intake and atten-
uate weight gain in Latino children, particularly in those
who are overweight.
J Am Diet Assoc. 2011;111:1224-1230.
making healthy foods more affordable and accessible for
families. Although promoting gardening and farmer’s
markets are key vehicles of this initiative, to date, no
gardening and nutrition intervention study has assessed
whether such innovative approaches are in fact effective
at reducing obesity and related risk factors. Given the
growing momentum for gardening and cooking programs,
there is an obvious research requisite to evaluate how a
gardening and cooking intervention affects dietary be-
haviors and subsequent obesity risk.
Los Angeles is one of the few cities in the United States
where foreign-born people constitute a majority, with
40% to 50% of residents being of Latino descent (1). The
prevalence of obesity in Los Angeles varies markedly by
ethnic/racial group, with Latinos having among the high-
est rates (2), which puts them at elevated risk for associ-
ated chronic diseases. Overweight Latino youth (aged 8 to
18 years) in Los Angeles have excessive visceral adipos-
ity, are insulin resistant, and more than 30% have pre-
diabetes and the metabolic syndrome (3-5). All these con-
ditions are associated with increases in risk for type 2
diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Low intakes of di-
etary fiber, specifically from fruits and vegetables, cou-
pled with high consumption of refined grains and added
sugar (6-8), have been linked to obesity and related dis-
orders in Latino populations.
A lack of access to healthy, affordable, high-quality
foods characterizes so-called food desert areas of inner
cities. A recent study in East Los Angeles, where the
majority of residents were Latino and of low socioeco-
nomic status (SES), reported that only 18% of grocery
stores sold fresh fruits and vegetables of good quality (ie,
not over-ripe or rotting) (9). Consequently, these geo-
graphic and financial barriers pose great challenges for
low-income Latino families living in Los Angeles to main-
tain a healthy and balanced diet (10). Growing food
in home, school, or community gardens is a means by
which low-income families can increase access to nutri-
tionally rich foods that may otherwise be unavailable to
ecently, the first-ever federal task force to address
the epidemic of childhood obesity in the United
States was formed, with one of the key pillars being
J. N. Davis is an assistant professor, E. E. Ventura is a
postdoctoral fellow, L. T. Cook is project manager, and
L. E. Gyllenhammer is a predoctoral student, Depart-
ment of Preventive Medicine, Keck School of Medicine,
University of Southern California, Los Angeles. N. M.
Gatto is an assistant professor, Department of Epidemi-
ology, School of Public Health, University of California
Address correspondence to: Jaimie N. Davis, PhD,
RD, 2250 Alcazar St, CSC 213, Los Angeles, CA 90033.
Manuscript accepted: December 17, 2010.
Copyright © 2011 by the American Dietetic
Journal of the AMERICAN DIETETIC ASSOCIATION
© 2011 by the American Dietetic Association
During the past 2 decades, school gardens have con-
tributed to improved dietary intake and eating behaviors
among children (12-16). However, to date, no study has
assessed the effects of school gardens on childhood obe-
sity measures, especially those in high-risk Latino youth.
Thus, the overall goal of this project was to develop and
test the effects of 12-week after-school, gardening, nutri-
tion, and cooking program (LA Sprouts) on dietary in-
take, obesity parameters (ie, body mass index [BMI],
waist circumference, percent body fat), and blood pres-
sure in Latino fourth- and fifth-grade students living in
Los Angeles. Researchers hypothesize that participants
who complete the LA Sprouts program would increase
their intake of dietary fiber, fruit, and vegetables and
experience a reduction in clinical indicators for obesity.
All fourth- and fifth-grade students at a local elementary
school (approximately 135 children) were invited to par-
ticipate in this pilot study, and a total of 104 agreed to
participate. Thirty-four students enrolled in an existing
after-school care program (LA’s BEST) completed the 12-
week LA Sprouts program (ie, attended at least 10 of the
12 sessions and completed all testing), whereas 70 fourth-
and fifth-grade students who were not enrolled in LA’s
BEST served as the control group. The ethnic background
and SES of students participating in the LA’s BEST after-
school care program reflects that of the entire school. The
Institutional Review Board of the University of Southern
California, Health Sciences Campus, and the Los Angeles
Unified School District approved this study. Informed
written consent from parents and assent from children
were obtained before the study.
Description of the Intervention Program
The LA Sprouts program was taught at the Milagro Al-
legro Community Garden located approximately 2 miles
from the elementary school. The 10,000-sq ft garden in-
cludes 32 raised bed garden plots for cultivating fruits
and vegetables, two of which were specifically devoted to
LA Sprouts. The garden also has a central community
gathering space with seating, a mobile cooking/grilling
island, and room for tables needed to teach classes. Stu-
dents were transported on the Metro light rail to and
from the class each week, given the proximity of the
Metro stations to both the garden and school (two blocks
away at either end).
An overview of 12-week LA Sprouts intervention cur-
riculum is presented in the Figure. LA Sprouts interven-
tion classes were taught during 90-minute sessions once
a week for 12 weeks during spring 2010. Sessions began
with participants receiving a 45-minute interactive cook-
ing and nutrition education lesson taught in English and
led by a study staff member or graduate student trained
in nutrition and supervised by a registered dietitian.
Nutrition lessons focused on increasing fruit and vegeta-
ble intake, including culturally relevant foods such as
cilantro, nopales, beans, corn, and squash. Preparation,
cooking, and eating occurred outdoors in the garden. Stu-
dents worked in small teams of five led by a teacher to
cook/prepare the sample recipe each week, which empha-
sized fruit and/or vegetable ingredients. The snack was
eaten in a family-style manner (ie, together at a table,
with a tablecloth and nondisposable plates and silver-
ware). Following the cooking and nutrition component,
participants received a 45-minute interactive gardening
lesson, taught by a Latina Master Gardener from the
University of California Cooperative Extension Common
Ground Garden Program. The gardening curriculum
used a hands-on approach where children learned and
participated in planting, growing, maintaining, and har-
vesting organic fruits and vegetables. Gardening lessons
also included identification of plants, square foot garden-
ing, seasonal crops, transplanting, recycling, composting,
irrigation, and mulching. Monthly visits to a local farm-
ers market were integrated into the LA Sprouts program,
and a five-to-one student:teacher ratio was maintained at
Parents of LA Sprouts participants also received three
separate 60-minute parental nutrition and gardening
classes during the 12-week intervention that were held at
the elementary school and timed for when parents typi-
cally picked up their children. The material covered in
the parent classes essentially mirrored that in the stu-
dent classes, but was taught primarily in Spanish. Parent
classes were optional and not well attended (about 25% of
Description of the Control Group
Although not a randomized trial, all fourth- and fifth-
grade students who were not enrolled in LA’s BEST
served as the control group. Control participants did not
receive any nutrition, gardening, or cooking information
between pre- and post-testing. After the post-testing was
completed, the school hosted gardening/nutrition/cooking
workshops for all fourth and fifth graders and their par-
ents as a delayed intervention.
Testing was performed by research faculty and staff 1
week before and 1 week after the 12-week intervention at
the elementary school during the school day on all con-
sented fourth and fifth grade students (both LA Sprouts
and Control participants). Specific details of the testing
measures are described below.
Demographics. Participants were asked basic demographic
information, including their age and ethnicity. To ascer-
tain family SES, participants were asked questions on
whether their family uses a computer at home and
whether their mother has her own car (17).
Anthropometrics, Body Composition, and Blood Pressure. Height
was measured to the nearest 0.1 cm using a wall-
mounted stadiometer (Perspective Enterprises, Portage,
MI). Weight (in kilograms) and total body fat (%, via
bioelectrical impedance) were measured with the Tanita
Body Fat Analyzer (model TBF 300, Arlington Heights,
IL). BMI and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
age and sex-specific BMI percentiles were determined
using EpiInfo version 3.2 (2005, Centers for Disease Con-
trol and Prevention, Atlanta, GA). Students with a BMI
percentage ?85th percentile were classified as being
August 2011 ● Journal of the AMERICAN DIETETIC ASSOCIATION
overweight (18). Waist circumference was measured us-
ing a tape measure and recorded to the nearest 0.1 cm.
Blood pressure (Welch Allyn Inc, Skaneateles Falls, NY)
was obtained according to recommendations of the Amer-
ican Heart Association (19). All measures were collected
by research faculty and staff.
Dietary Intake. Dietary intake was assessed by the 2007
Block Food Screeners for Ages 2-17 (20). This 41-item
screener asks about food eaten yesterday and was de-
signed to assess children’s intake by food group with
outcomes measured in number of servings. The focus of
this screener is on intake of fruit and fruit juices, vege-
tables, potatoes (including french fries), whole grains,
meat/poultry/fish, dairy, legumes, saturated fat, and
added sugars (in sweetened cereals, soft drinks, and
sweets). This screener was designed for self-administra-
tion by children with the assistance of a parent or teacher
as needed, and takes about 10 to 12 minutes to complete.
National dietary surveys such as the National Health and
Nutrition Examination Survey were used to inform the
selection of the foods to query, as well as to identify
appropriate portion sizes and nutrient composition to
apply. This screener was developed and adapted from the
Block Kids 2004 Food Frequency Questionnaire (21). A
validation study comparing the screener to three 24-hour
diet recalls is currently underway in 60 obese children
aged 4 to 9 years.
Statistical Procedures. Data were examined for normality
and transformations were made if data were found to be
significantly different from normal. Diastolic blood
pressure and waist circumference were non-normally
distributed, and analyses were conducted on the log-
transformed values. Dietary data were screened for
plausibility of energy intake by assessing the distribu-
tion of the residuals of the linear regression of energy
intake by body weight at baseline. Six participants had
a residual that was more than three standard devia-
tions from the mean, thus only 98 participants (65
controls and 33 LA Sprouts participants) were included
in dietary analyses.
For baseline comparisons, analysis of variance and ?2
test (for sex and ethnicity only) were employed to assess
Figure. Session overview of the 12-week LA Sprouts gardening after-school program for Latino fourth- and fifth-grade students.
August 2011 Volume 111 Number 8
differences in demographic and physical measures be-
tween intervention and control groups for the entire sam-
ple and for the subgroup of overweight/obese subjects. An
analysis of covariance was used to assess whether
changes in health outcomes across the 12-week interven-
tion period (ie, anthropometrics, body composition, blood
pressure, and dietary variables) differed between inter-
vention and control groups for the entire sample and for
the overweight subgroup, including the following a priori
covariates: baseline health outcome of interest, sex, age,
and energy intake (for all dietary variables). All analyses
were performed using the standard SPSS version 16.0 for
Mac (2007, SPSS Inc, Chicago, IL), with significance level
set at P?0.05.
The physical characteristics at baseline and postinter-
vention between intervention (LA Sprouts) and control
group members for the entire sample (N?104) and the
overweight subsample (n?61) are shown in Table 1.
There were no significant differences in ethnicity, SES, or
physical characteristics between the intervention and
control group as a whole or for the overweight subsample.
Fifty-nine percent of children who participated in the
study were overweight or obese, with 61% overweight
children in the control group vs 53% overweight children
in the LA Sprouts group. In the overweight subsample,
the control group was 67% boys vs 39% boys in the LA
Sprouts group (P?0.04).
Dietary variables at baseline and postintervention be-
tween intervention groups for the entire sample and the
overweight subsample are shown in Table 2. For all par-
ticipants, those in the control group reported consuming
23% more dietary fiber (grams/1,000 kcal/day) at baseline
compared to the LA Sprouts participants (P?0.03). No
other dietary variables were significantly different be-
tween groups for the entire sample or for overweight
Changes in Dietary Outcomes
For the entire sample, there was a significant difference
in change in dietary fiber intake (grams per day and
grams/1,000 kcal/day) between groups, with LA Sprouts
participants increasing fiber intake by 22% compared to a
12% decrease in control group members (P?0.04). For the
overweight subsample, there was a significant difference
in the change in dietary fiber (grams/day) between
groups, with overweight LA Sprouts participants having
no change vs a 29% decrease in overweight controls
(P?0.01). There were no other significant changes in
Changes in Health Outcomes
In the entire sample, there was a significant difference in
the change in diastolic blood pressure between groups,
with LA Sprouts participants decreasing by 5% compared
to a 3% decrease in controls (P?0.04). For the overweight
subsample, there was a significant difference in the
Table 1. Baseline (pre) and postintervention (post) demographic and physical characteristics of LA Sprouts gardening program participants
All Subjects Overweight/Obese Subjects
Intervention (n?34) Control (n?70)
Intervention (n?18) Control (n?43)
P value PrePostPre PostPrePostPrePost
Computer at home, yes
Mother has own car, yes
97 93 10093
4 ™™™™™™™™™™™ mean?standard deviation ™™™™™™™™™™ 3
4 ™™™™™™™™™™™ mean?standard deviation ™™™™™™™™™™™ 3
Body mass index
Body mass index percentile
Body mass index z score
Total fat (%)
Systolic blood pressure
Diastolic blood pressure
aAnalysis of covariance used to assess if changes in demographic and physical characteristics over the 12-week intervention period differed between intervention and control groups
for the entire sample and for the overweight subgroup; the following a priori covariates were included: baseline value, sex, and age.
August 2011 ● Journal of the AMERICAN DIETETIC ASSOCIATION
change in weight between groups, with overweight LA
Sprouts participants only gaining 1% vs a 4% increase in
overweight controls (P?0.03). There was a significant
change in BMI as well for the overweight subsample,
with a 1% decrease in overweight LA Sprouts partici-
pants vs a 1% increase in overweight control group par-
Results showed that a culturally tailored, 12-week gar-
dening/nutrition/cooking intervention improved dietary
intake (by increasing dietary fiber) and reduced blood
pressure. When assessing overweight participants, the
LA Sprouts program reduced BMI and the rate of weight
gain in Latino children.
Prior studies of gardening interventions on dietary in-
take/behaviors in children (12-16) have found that nutri-
tion lessons in combination with gardening activities im-
proved the willingness of young children (aged 6 and 7
years) to taste vegetables (14). A recent randomized con-
trolled trial showed that fourth and fifth graders most
exposed to a school-based nutrition and gardening inter-
vention increased their preference and intake of fruits
and vegetables by half a cup a day (15). Another random-
ized controlled trial found that a 6-month nutrition and
gardening program in fourth-grade classrooms resulted
in increased preference and willingness to eat a variety of
vegetables compared to nutrition only and control groups
(22). Previous studies have shown the effects of similar
interventions on dietary intake and behaviors linked to
intake, such as preference and willingness, but none have
gone so far as to directly measure the effects on health
outcomes, such as body composition and blood pressure.
For this study, although data were collected assessing the
effects of the LA Sprouts program on a variety of related
dietary behaviors (such as knowledge, preference, self-
efficacy, and motivation), this article focuses on the ef-
fects on actual dietary intake and health outcomes, and
the former will be presented in a separate article.
It is well recognized that dietary fiber plays a protective
role against excess adiposity and metabolic disorders in
both adults (23-25) and children (26,27). However, na-
tional data consistently show that children consume less
than half of the recommended amount of dietary fiber of
14 g fiber per 1,000 kcal/day (27). Researchers at the
University of Southern California have repeatedly veri-
fied the protective effect of dietary fiber on metabolic
syndrome, waist circumference, and visceral fat in Latino
youth (8,28). Secondary analyses from a 16-week nutri-
tion and exercise intervention showed that Latino adoles-
cents with obesity who increased dietary fiber by an av-
erage of 5 g/day had a 10% reduction in visceral adiposity
(29). Other research studies have also shown that in-
creasing dietary fiber, mainly by substituting fruit and
vegetables for foods with higher energy density, is an
effective weight-maintenance strategy, primarily by in-
creasing satiety, reducing hunger, and lowering energy
intake (30,31). These results suggest that interventions
aimed at increasing dietary fiber, by increasing fruits and
vegetables, grains, and legumes, may subsequently de-
crease energy intake, which in turn decreases obesity.
However, in our study, there were improvements in di-
etary fiber intake and reductions in the rate of weight
gain, without subsequent energy intake differences. One
explanation is that small, albeit significant, increases in
daily fiber may have led to acute reductions in energy
intake that were simply not captured in post dietary
assessment. Another explanation is that dietary fiber,
specifically soluble fiber, could have decreased intestinal
absorption of fatty acids and cholesterol, which subse-
Table 2. Baseline (pre) and postintervention (post) dietary characteristics of LA Sprouts gardening program participantsa
All Subjects Overweight/Obese Subjects
LA Sprouts (n?34)Controls (n?70)
LA Sprouts (n?18) Controls (n?43)
Pre PostPrePost PrePost PrePost
4™™™™™™™™™™™™™™™™™™ mean?standard deviation ™™™™™™™™™™™™™™™™™3
4™™™™™™™™™™™™™™™™™™™™ mean?standard deviation ™™™™™™™™™™™™™™™™™ 3
Protein (% kcal)
Fat (% kcal)
Added sugar (tsp/d)
Dietary fiber (g/d)
Dietary fiber (g/1,000
Whole grains (oz/d)
aSix participants were excluded for dietary assessment because they had implausible energy intake.
bNutrient and food group data came from the 24-hour Block food frequency questionnaire screener (20).
cVegetables include potatoes, but do not include fried vegetables.
dFruit does not include juice.
eAnalysis of covariance was used to assess whether changes in dietary intake across the 12-week intervention period differed between intervention and control groups for the entire sample and for the overweight
subgroup; the following a priori covariates were included: baseline diet variable, energy (for variables expressed in g/d only) sex, and age.
August 2011 Volume 111 Number 8
quently decreases cholesterol synthesis (32) and could
affect subsequent weight gain. Regardless of the mecha-
nism, research consistently shows that increased dietary
fiber intake leads to reductions in obesity and related
In our study, changes in dietary fiber between groups
may be attributed to the combination of the slight, non-
statistically significant increase in whole-grain intake in
LA Sprouts participants and the slight nonstatistically
significant reduction in vegetable and whole-grain intake
in control group participants. However, LA Sprouts par-
ticipants had lower dietary fiber intake compared to con-
trol group participants at baseline, also not significant,
thus making the improvements in fiber intake in LA
Sprouts participants more pronounced. Regardless, the
dietary changes seen in this study may have been partly
responsible for the improvements in blood pressure.
These dietary changes are in line with the dietary goals of
the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension diet (ie,
increases in whole grains, fruits, and vegetables), which
has been routinely shown to lower blood pressure in both
adults (33) and children (34).
There are several limitations of this study that should
be mentioned. The intervention was not a randomized
controlled trial, and participants enrolled in the existing
after-school program were compared with other students
at the same school. However, baseline demographic and
physical characteristics were essentially the same be-
tween intervention and control participants. Other limi-
tations are the relatively small sample size and short
duration of the program. Another limitation is the use of
a food frequency questionnaire screener that assessed
dietary intake for the previous 24-hour period, which
relies on memory and only captures a relatively short
time span. However, recall of the previous day is likely to
be better than the prior week (35). Furthermore, this
measure of assessment is not as sensitive as a 24-hour
dietary recall. In addition, the LA Sprouts program did
not significantly reduce BMI percentiles and z scores
overall, although there was a decrease, in participants
with overweight/obesity. It is possible that with a bigger
sample size these reductions would have reached signif-
icance. The last limitation is that this study did not
include an intensive family or parent program, and liter-
ature consistently shows that parental support, parent-
ing styles, and the family environment are important
components in the prevention and management of child-
hood obesity (36-38). Future research is needed to test
this program in a large randomized controlled trial last-
ing 1 to 2 years and including a strong parental and
This study shows that a 12-week intervention focused on
gardening, nutrition, and cooking can lead to dietary
improvements and reductions in blood pressure and the
rate of weight gain in Latino children. This type of inter-
vention not only addresses key health issues facing high-
risk Latino communities, but it is also in accordance with
the national priorities established for public health to
ensure that families living in food deserts have access to
healthy, affordable food (39). Furthermore, teaching gar-
dening and nutrition knowledge and cooking skills in
combination with providing children and their families
with the resources to grow their own food is a sustainable
approach to promoting long-term fruit and vegetable con-
sumption and may ultimately play a key role in combat-
ing obesity and related disorders. These results highlight
the need for additional research to examine how cultur-
ally tailored nutrition interventions incorporating gar-
dening and cooking component can improve dietary in-
take and health.
STATEMENT OF POTENTIAL CONFLICT OF INTEREST:
No potential conflict of interest was reported by the au-
FUNDING/SUPPORT: This research was supported by
Kaiser Foundation Hospital Los Angeles, Kaiser Perma-
nente Community Benefit grant no. 20610585, and the
Childhood Obesity Research Center, University of South-
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: The authors thank LA’s
BEST staff; LA’s BEST director, Edith Ballesteros-Var-
gas; and the Loreto Elementary School’s principal, Delo-
res Manrique, and teachers, specifically Matt Mihm, for
supporting this project. The authors also thank Milli
Macen-Moore, the University of California Cooperative
Extension Master Gardener, who developed and taught
the gardening lessons; the University of Southern Cali-
fornia students who helped create the nutrition curricu-
lum and taught the nutrition classes (Lillian Berns, and
Vinita Khilnani); and the study participants and their
families for their involvement.
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