A new study found that people who tend a community garden had lower body mass indexes than their neighbors. (Darryl Bush/Associated Press)
Participating in community gardening may help keep you trim

THE QUESTION Community gardens can add to the fabric of a neighborhood. Might they also benefit the health — especially the weight — of those who do the gardening?

THIS STUDY analyzed data on 198 adults, most in their mid-40s, who had gardened in an urban community plot for at least a year, comparing it with data of people of comparable age and sex who lived in the same neighborhood but did not garden. Gardeners had, on average, a lower body mass index, or BMI — an indicator of body fatness calculated from a person’s weight and height — than non-gardeners: 1.8 points lower for women and 2.4 points lower for men. These differences are comparable to an 11-pound weight difference for a 5-foot-5 woman and a 16-pound difference for a 5-foot-10 man. Men who gardened were 62 percent less likely to be overweight or obese than their neighbors who did not garden; women gardeners were 46 percent less likely to be overweight or obese.

WHO MAY BE AFFECTED? Adults who are concerned about their weight. Being overweight is known to increase risk for such chronic health problems as heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes, among others. In the United States, more than two-thirds of adults are overweight or obese.

CAVEATS The analysis did not include data on who consumed the produce grown in the gardeners’ plots, and the study did not determine whether the benefits experienced by the gardeners resulted from more physical activity, an improved diet or both. And it did not determine what caused the differences found in weight and BMI. Data used to compute BMI came from official driver’s license records, which rely on people’s assessments of their height and weight. The number of gardeners was relatively small.

FIND THIS STUDY April 18 online issue of the American Journal of Public Health.

LEARN MORE ABOUT BMI and your health at www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health (search for “healthy weight”). Learn about community gardens at www.communitygarden.org/learn.

The research described in Quick Study comes from credible, peer-reviewed journals. Nonetheless, conclusive evidence about a treatment's effectiveness is rarely found in a single study. Anyone considering changing or beginning treatment of any kind should consult with a physician.