Research Design, Protocol, and Participant Characteristics of COLEAFS: A Cluster Randomized Controlled Trial of a Childcare Garden Intervention

Authors: Nilda Graciela Cosco, Nancy M. Wells, Muntazar Monsur, Lora Suzanne Goodell, Daowen Zhang, Tong Xu, Derek Hales, and Robin Clive Moore.

Abstract: Childcare garden interventions may be an effective strategy to increase fruit and vegetable (FV) consumption and physical activity among young children. The objective of this paper is to describe the research design, protocol, outcome measures, and baseline characteristics of participants in the Childcare Outdoor Learning Environments as Active Food Systems (“COLEAFS”) study, a cluster randomized controlled trial (RCT) examining the effect of a garden intervention on outcomes related to diet and physical activity. Fifteen childcare centers in low-income areas were randomly assigned to intervention (to receive garden intervention in Year 1), waitlist control (to receive garden intervention in Year 2), and control group (no intervention). The garden intervention comprised six raised beds planted with warm-season vegetables and fruits, and a garden activity booklet presenting 12 gardening activities. FV knowledge and FV liking were measured using a tablet-enabled protocol. FV consumption was measured by weighing FV before and after a snack session. Physical activity was measured using Actigraph GT3x+ worn by children for three consecutive days while at the childcare center. Of the 543 eligible children from the 15 childcare centers, 250 children aged 3–5 years received parental consent, assented, and participated in baseline data collection. By employing an RCT to examine the effect of a garden intervention on diet and physical activity among young children attending childcare centers within low-income communities, this study offers compelling research design and methods, addresses a critical gap in the empirical literature, and is a step toward evidence-based regulations to promote early childhood healthy habits.