The impact of home gardens on dietary diversity, nutrient intake and nutritional status of pre-school children in a home garden project in Eatonside, the Vaal triangle, Johannesburg, South Africa.
Urban agriculture is a strategy poor urban, informal settlement residents adopt to reduce poverty and improve food security and child nutrition. It is widely asserted in the literature and development circles that household vegetable gardens can provide a significant percentage of recommended dietary allowances of macro- and micro-nutrients in the diets of pre-school children. These children are vulnerable in terms of food access and nutrition. The first five years of a child’s life are crucial to psychological well-being. This study set out to determine the impact of home gardens on access to food, dietary diversity and nutrient intake of pre-school children in an informal settlement in Eatonside, in the Vaal Region, Johannesburg, South Africa. The home gardening project was undertaken in five phases, namely the planning phase; a baseline survey (including quantitative food intake frequencies, 24-hour recall, individual dietary diversity questionnaires and anthropometric measurements); a training programme on home gardens; planting and tending the gardens and evaluating the impact of home gardens on access to food, dietary diversity and nutrient intake of pre-school children. Children aged two to five years (n=40) were selected to participate in the study. The sample population consisted of 22 boys and 18 girls. The children were categorised into three groups at the start of the project: children of 24-35 months (four boys and one girl), 36-47 months (four boys and five girls) and 48-60 months (14 boys and 12 girls). All but 10 per cent of the children’s consumption of foods in the food groups increased. At the start of the project, low consumption rates were observed for white tubers and roots, vitamin A-rich fruit, other fruit and fish. After the gardening project, the number of children consuming vegetables increased considerably. There was an increase in the intake of food groups over the period of the project. The number of children consuming vitamin A-rich increased the most, with all children (45 per cent improvement) consuming vitamin A-rich vegetables at the end of the project, compared with just over half at the start of the project. The consumption of vegetables increased with 78 per cent of the children consuming beans and 33 per cent beetroot. Most children (95 per cent) consumed cabbage, carrots and spinach post-home gardening. Seventy eight percent of children consumed beans by the end of the project, but only a third of the children had consumed beetroot during the post-project survey period. Intakes of all nutrients considered in the study improved by the end of the project, except for energy and calcium, which dropped marginally, but both remained at around 50 per cent below requirements. Twenty five percent of boys (24-35 months) were underweight and below the 50th percentile at the pre- and post-project stages. The same boys were severely stunted (on average -4.41 standard deviations below the third percentile). Of the boys aged 36-47 months, 25 per cent were stunted pre-project, but by the end of the project, this number had decreased to 50 per cent. Twenty one per cent of the older boys (48-60 months) were within their normal height for age. Twenty five per cent of girls were underweight (36-47 months). A slight change was observed in the 36-47 month group, where the mean changed from -0.14 standard deviations (below 50th percentile) pre-project to -0.5 (below 50th percentile) post-project. All girls aged 24-35 months were below -2 standard deviations pre-project. After the home gardening project, the figure dropped to 50 per cent. For girls aged 36-47 months, 25 per cent were below -3 standard deviations after the project, compared with 20 per cent pre-project. Height-for- age for girls aged 36-47 months dropped by 10 per cent below -2 standard deviation post-home gardening. Girls from 24 to 35 months were severely stunted [-3.02 (below 3rd percentile) pre- and -2.31 (below 5th percentile) post-project]. Stunting was observed in 36-47 months girls who had means of -2.39 (below 3rd percentile) and 1.86 (below 25th percentile) both pre-and post-gardening respectively and were at risk of malnutrition. The older girls were well nourished with means of height-for-age at -0.88 (below 50th percentile) pre-project and -0.92 (below 50th percentile) post-project. Home-gardening improved food access, dietary diversity, energy, protein, carbohydrate, fat, fibre, vitamin A and iron intakes, but did not make a significant impact on the malnutrition of the children in the project or ensure adequate intakes. Home gardens had a positive impact on height-for-age scores; but had no significant impact on mean weight-for-age and height-for-weight z-scores of the pre-school children. Increases in carbohydrate and fat intakes were shown to have the only significant impact on the children’s nutritional status and only with regard to improving height-for-age scores. The results show that the gardens did not have the expected impact on children’s nutrition, but confirm that increases in incomes from gardening are likely to have a greater impact through savings from consuming produce grown and selling produce to buy energy-dense foods for the children. This needs to be considered in nutrition interventions.
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