A new study U.K. study suggests that participating in local food projects may have a positive effect on well-being and psychological health.
Participation in community gardens, community supported agriculture, farmers’ markets, food cooperatives and the like have been growing, and consumers are increasingly interested in non-processed food.
Investigators have explored the physical health benefits of growing food, but systematic investigation into how local food projects may influence psychological well-being has been scarce. Discovery of a relationship between a local food scene and mental health provides a tremendous opportunity for public health workers.
Psychological well-being generates important benefits for people and societies, including good health, longevity, improved personal relationships, better productivity, and civic engagement.
Mental illness presents a growing global public health crisis in both the U.K. and U.S. In the United Kingdom, mental health contributes to 28 percent of the total financial cost of health care while in the U.S. cost of care and lost productivity result in a loss of more than $444 billion each year.
Using an online survey, researchers compared participants of local food initiatives across three English counties with members of the wider public. They found that those who participated in local food initiatives scored higher on standardized measures of well-being than those who did not participate.
They also explored why this might be the case, looking at four different mediators known to influence well-being: connection to nature, the satisfaction of basic psychological needs, better diets, and physical activity. Finally, they explored how different types of participation — longer durations or more active roles — influence well-being.
“These findings are encouraging to those of us looking at how sustainability and well-being interact,” said Dr. Zareen Bharucha, the study’s lead researcher.
“They show that we should be looking more seriously at projects such as allotments, community gardens, community supported agriculture, and farmers’ markets, which can bring people together, improve diets, improve connection to nature, and help people learn new things.
“All of these help to improve mental health, which is one of the most significant public health challenges of our time. At the same time, they help build the foundations of a really sustainable food system, which is also fundamental for the well-being of people and the planet.”
The study is slated to appear in the Journal of Public Health.
Source: Oxford University/EurekAlert