Despite numerous national campaigns, the consumption of fruit and vegetables in the U.S. population remains at lower than recommended levels (Blanck et al., 2008; Dehghan et al., 2011; Demydas, 2011). It is estimated that over 75% of the adult population does not consume the minimum recommendation of at least five daily servings of fruit and vegetables.
As the older adult population in the United States continues to grow, so does concern for the health of this population (Arias, 2007). Older adults have an increased rate of susceptibility to chronic disease and disability and increased cost for healthcare (Arterburn et al., 2004; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2007). Poor nutrition is one factor that has been linked to the rising cost of healthcare and the consumption of fruit and vegetables has consistently been linked to improved health (Nestle, 2007; Schlettwein-Gsell, 1992). Research on older adults consistently shows that older populations do not consume the proper numbers of servings of fruit and vegetables on a daily basis (Bowman, 2007; Prochaska et al., 2005; Sommerfeld et al., 2010a; Vitolins et al., 2007). Bisogni et al. (2002) reported that older adults who were born during World War II consumed fewer fruit and vegetables due to the rationing of nonbasic caloric needs experienced during this time period. This dietary restriction may have carried over to the children of this age group and, therefore, potentially persists today. To exacerbate the problem of poor nutritional intake, older adults suffer from decreased nutrient absorption rates, indicating that those nutrients that are consumed may be used less efficiently by older adults (Vitolins et al., 2007).
Gardening has been shown to have an impact on food choices for both children and adults through improving the access to and increasing the preference for fruit and vegetables (Devine et al., 1999; Heim et al., 2009; Koch et al., 2006; Mummery et al., 2007; Sommerfeld et al., 2010a). Particularly, past research has suggested that gardening may have an impact on food choices for adults aged 50 years or older (Sommerfeld et al., 2010a). Researchers suggested that it is through the increased personal connection to food through the hands-on activities gardening provides that this improvement in dietary consumption occurs (Heim et al., 2009). Gardening may be an effective tool for engaging the older population with food and nutrition issues as it is a favorite physical leisure time activity for older adults (Ashton-Shaeffer and Constant, 2005; Bertera, 2003). In fact, in a study of all adults, gardening was considered one of the top two leisure-time physical activities preferred across all ethnicities (Crespo et al., 1996).
Participation in gardening programs also has an impact on the nutritional knowledge and attitudes of individuals (Hackman and Wagner, 1990; Koch et al., 2006; Libman, 2007). However, research that links nutritional knowledge with health has reported mixed results. Wardle et al. (2000) reported that improved nutritional knowledge was related to greater consumption of fruit and vegetables. However, other studies reported factors such as food availability and cultural, economic, and educational factors were as important, if not more so, when compared with nutritional knowledge on actual food choices (Dallongeville et al., 2000; O’Brien and Davies, 2007; Shepherd and Towler, 2007).
The goal of this study was to compare older gardeners’ and nongardeners’ nutritional attitudes, eating habits (with regards to fruit and vegetable consumption and the consumption of salty and sweet snacks), and their knowledge of nutrition (specifically, fat, fiber, and salt).
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