Community Gardeners Weigh Less Than Their Neighbors And Siblings

Community gardeners have a lower BMI than their neighbors and same sex siblings, according to this exploratory study by researchers at the University of Utah. They contacted a community gardening organization to collect names of people who gardened for at least one year between 1995 and 2001 and used administrative data bases to identify neighbors, siblings, and spouses of the gardeners in order to compare BMI and the risk of being obese or overweight. The three comparison groups were chosen because neighbors shared the same physical and economic environment, siblings shared genes, and spouses shared lifestyle and food choices as the gardeners. Women who worked in the community garden had an average BMI that was 1.84 units lower than their neighbors (about an 11 pound weight difference for a 5 foot 5 inch woman), while male gardeners had an average BMI that was 2.36 units lower than their neighbors (about a 16 pound difference for a 5 foot 10 inch man). The risk of being overweight or obese was 46% lower for female gardeners and 62% lower for male gardeners than it was for their neighbors. Gardeners also had lower average BMI than their same sex siblings, 1.88 units lower for women and 1.33 units lower for men. Female gardeners were 45% less likely to be obese or overweight than their sisters. As expected, there were no significant differences in BMI and risk of being overweight or obese between gardeners and their spouses because spouses were expected to eat garden produce and possibly share in gardening tasks. One limitation of this study is reverse causality, that is people who are already interested in physical activity and healthy diets may be drawn to gardening, which would affect their BMI.