A new study has shown that community food growing can improve people’s overall fitness and healthy eating, alleviate the symptoms of mental illness, and help cancer sufferers cope with the distressing effects of their treatment. The authors undertook a review of international scientific research demonstrating the benefits of gardening and community food growing for physical and mental wellbeing. They are now calling on health professionals to put community food growing ‘on prescription’, for the many health benefits this would achieve.
Entitled ‘The Benefits of Gardening and Food Growing for Health and Wellbeing’, the study has been launched at a conference for health professionals and food growing project organizers, that took place 2nd April 2014 in London. The conference was organized by Growing Health, a charitable initiative helping community food growing projects to demonstrate their benefits and persuade GPs and local health services to invest in the support and services they can provide.
“For the large number of people in our society – children and adults – who live with challenging physical or mental health problems, gardening and community food growing can be especially beneficial,” said Professor Tim Lang, chair of the Growing Health conference.
“Such activities can relieve the symptoms of serious illnesses, prevent the development of some serious conditions, reduce stress and introduce people to a way of life that can help them to improve their own well-being in the longer term.”
The Growing Health organizers have reviewed many working examples of GPs and health professionals already using community food growing to treat physical and mental health conditions. One example, whose organizers will share their experiences at the conference, is Sydenham Gardens in South London, founded by local residents and a local GP to provide gardening, nature conservation and creative opportunities for local people. Patients are referred to the project through their GP or key worker.
“This important new study of the evidence for the benefits of gardening and community food growing is a call to action for health professionals,” said Maria Devereaux, Growing Health project officer. “Pioneering action, already piloted by local GPs and health authorities, to put gardening and food growing ‘on prescription’ should now be recognised and replicated throughout the NHS, and local authority planners should protect and create food growing spaces, for the benefit of everyone.”
The Growing Health conference will feature inspiring case studies of food growing ‘on prescription’, and a presentation from Joe Sempik of the University of Nottingham – a leading authority on social and therapeutic horticulture – on how food growing projects can measure their benefits to prove their worth to the health service.
The full study ‘The Benefits of Gardening and Food Growing for Health and Wellbeing’, is available at www.growinghealth.info
Growing Health is a national project run by the charities Garden Organic (www.gardenorganic.org.uk) and Sustain: The alliance for better food and farming (www.sustainweb.org), and funded by the Tudor Trust charitable foundation. The project aims to see how community food growing can be routinely used by the health and social care services as a way of promoting health and wellbeing for a range of individuals and population groups. See: www.growinghealth.info
Tim Lang is professor of food policy at the Centre for Food Policy at City University London. He is also a Fellow of the Faculty of Public Health, President of the charity Garden Organic, and a keen vegetable grower. See: www.city.ac.uk/people/academics/timothy-lang
Several case studies of GPs and health professionals using gardening and food growing to treat health conditions are published at: www.sustainweb.org/growinghealth/case_studies/ and The Sydenham Gardens case study is downloadable at: www.sustainweb.org/resources/files/reports/GH_SydenhamCaseStudy.pdf
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