Home gardening is associated with the dietary diversity of preschool children in the Philippines

With undernutrition a persistent problem in most countries, the rise in food prices has stirred global concern over its impact on the prevalence of hunger and ultimately on the population’s nutritional status. Dietary diversification through home gardening is a sustainable strategy and is among the approaches recognized to increase production and consumption of vitamin A-rich foods. It also has the potential to provide multiple nutrients1.

Home gardening provides households with an option for cash-free product and easy access to fruits and vegetables. Home gardens have been associated with improved consumption of fruits, vegetables and/or nutrient intake, improved child health and nutritional status, improved household food security and income, and the empowerment of women2-9. There have been, however, few studies linking home gardening with dietary diversity10.

The aim of this cross-sectional study was to determine the association between home gardening and the dietary diversity of preschool children in an urban and semi-urban area in the Philippines. A total of 200 households with children aged two to five years were visited in the municipalities of Baras and Angono in the province of Rizal. Mothers were interviewed using a structured questionnaire. The children’s dietary diversity score (DDS) was based on the number of unique food groups consumed over the past 24 hours.

Student’s t-test was performed to compare means between groups (households with garden versus households without garden) while proportions between groups were compared using Pearson’s x² analyses. Multiple linear regression was performed to model the adjusted regression coefficients for the quantitative outcome variables by exposure variable.

There was a clear association between having a home garden and a more varied diet among preschool children. Children from households with gardens (52,5%) had significantly higher DDS compared with children who lived in homes without garden (difference=0.50, 95% CI=0.02-0.98; P=0.040). Even when using a minimum of 10 grams intake for each food category in computing the DDS, those with gardens had significantly higher scores (difference=0.52, 95% CI=0.01-1.02; P=0.044). The improvement in diet diversity may be attributed to having a home garden possibly by consumption of grown produce, by saving cash that might usually be spent on buying fruits or vegetables that are now available from the garden, or by providing a source of additional income that may be used for other food items10.

Children from households with gardens were significantly more likely to eat vegetables more frequently than those in households without gardens (x²=9.06; P=0.029). These findings are consistent with the findings of previous studies which showed that home gardens increased the intake of fruits and vegetables4-7. Results of this study also showed that two-thirds of the children from households with gardens consumed Vitamin Arich fruits and vegetables in the last 24 hours, while half of the children in the households without gardens did so (x²=6.77; P=0.009).

Having a home garden was not associated with food security. This finding was not consistent with the result of the evaluation of the homestead gardening program in Bangladesh, which showed an increase in household food security through consumption of more vegetables from the garden produce and generating income from selling garden produce3.

Maternal educational attainment and the presence of a garden were significant independent variables for DDS with or without the 10-gram minimum intake cutoff. The effect of having a garden on DDS was 0.60 (95% CI=0.13-1.08; P=0.013), and 0.63 (95% CI=0.13-1.13; P=0.013) when a cutoff of 10 grams was used per food category, when controlling for age and sex of the child as well as maternal educational attainment.

This study showed a positive association between having a home garden and the child’s diet diversity and frequency of fruits and vegetables consumed. Nutrition education may be an important means not only to encourage households, even those with limited land access, to put up a home garden, but also to change eating and feeding practices. This study highlights the need for more effort to target households that do not have home gardens because they are more at risk of having a diet of poorer quality.

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