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Despite the documented health benefits of increasing fruit and vegetable consumption, less than 50 percent of California children eat five or more servings of fruit/vegetables daily. Low-income populations in particular face many barriers to consuming fruit and vegetables. To overcome these barriers, the federal Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) changed its policy in October 2009 and began distributing cash vouchers to low-income women and children to purchase fruit and vegetables.
California is one of the states with the highest prevalence of obesity among preschool-aged children from low-income families. The Center for Disease Control examined the 2009 data from Pediatric Nutrition Surveillance System and found that more than 15 percent of low-income 2- to 4-year-old children in California are overweight or obese (defined as being at or above the 95th percentile on the growth chart). In Riverside County, 13.8 percent of children ages 2 to 4 living in a household under 185 percent federal poverty level are overweight (2007 California Health Interview Survey).
Almost one third of youth ages 10 to 14 living in Riverside County are either overweight, obese or are at risk of being overweight. If we focus on children living in poverty, the number increases to 42 percent, according to the 2007 California Health Interview Survey. The survey also reports that 70 percent of Riverside youth ages 10 to 14 eat less than 5 servings of fruits and vegetables daily, 47 percent said they ate fast food two or more times in the past week, 19 percent drank two or more glasses of soda or other sugary drinks the previous day, and only 22 percent are active for at least one hour every day in a typical week.
As more and more agricultural land in Riverside County is converted into housing, children become more distant from their agricultural roots. Gardening exposes children to science and agriculture and increases the likelihood they will eat more fruits and vegetables. Inadequate daily intake of produce by youth and childhood obesity are real concerns. These issues underscore the need to support school teachers in their efforts to start, maintain and use a school garden to promote students' education and health.