Evidence of the positive impact of Urban Organic Communities

The Benefits of Horticulture in Cities

A research study organised by Católica University UCP, Centro de Biotecnologia e Química Fina CBQ , in partnership with Lipor – Intermunicipal Waste Management and ISPUP – Instituto de Saúde Pública da Cidade do Porto,  reveals valid behavioural changes in 115 city-residents who took up horticulture.

The February 2018 study, aimed at evaluating the effects of horticulture on health behaviours and quality of life was conducted for 6 months, on a land that is part of a mental hospital in the centre of Porto, Portugal’s second largest city. The area was divided into plots rented and used for by 115 hospital workers and neighbouring residents. Of the total participants, 13 eventually decided to drop the experiment, the other 102 continued through the entire period. Participants were mainly female (57.8%) and male (48.0%), with an average age of 53 years. A large proportion of those enquired were married or in a non-marital partnerships. The educational level of the sample was high, with 52% of participants holding a college degree and 23.5% with high school degrees. The great majority of partakers were employed and the remainder retired and disabled.

Data was collected when the plots were first cultivated and 6 months later by means of semi-structured questionnaires applied by the same researcher, through face-to-face questionnaires and phone calls. The framework of the questionnaires included: self-weight and body mass, health and physical activity, smoking habits and alcohol consumption. Participants were enquired on their expectations in produce purchases, their physical activities, environmental practices, motivation, sustainability practices and patterns of food consumption. Other elements of each individual were also questioned: functional capacity, physical aspects, pain, general health, vitality, social aspects, emotional aspects and mental health. All questionnaires were applied using validated indexes for Portuguese Population. Read more here.

According to Prof. Paulo Nova – principal investigator of the study, “the research showed significant behavioural changes amongst its users, including positive outcomes in anthropometric parameters, physical activity, smoking habits, eating habits, health status and overall quality of life.” Journal of Nutritional Health and Food Science

In addition to the results collected, a subjective assessment also brought back supportive reactions from participants. Respondents were questioned if any third parties such as friends or relatives had seen and mentioned changes and made comments like: “you look better” and/or “seem younger”, 72 of the 102 members of the study answered affirmatively.

“Currently 54% of the World’s population lives in urban areas. Continued urbanisation, coupled with population growth, will mean an additional 2.5 billion living in cities by 2050…” UN – Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division

Population growth and lack of accessible seasonal “greens” has lead to the introduction of processed foods of low nutritional value, high in saturated fats, sugar and cholesterol adding negative input to a sedentary lifestyle which has become typical in our cities. The result is the decay of public health and a rise in obesity, cardiovascular disease and mental illness.

Urban agriculture can assist in bringing a balance to cities. Professor Paulo Nova and his team witnessed a positive transformation in those who were part of the study. Other studies have similarly also demonstrated the advantages of creating more community vegetable gardens. The Professor and his team hope this model can be replicated throughout Portugal “using low tech, with low cost methods and a non-invasive approach.”

Study Team: Paulo Nova, Elisabete Pinto, Benedita Chaves and Margarida Silva.