Research Summary

Engaging school and family in Navajo gardening for health: Development of the Yéego intervention to promote healthy eating among Navajo children

Integrating Navajo traditions into the school’s nutrition and gardening lessons may help reduce obesity among Navajo children

Health Behavior and Policy Review

Childhood obesity in the United States is highest among racial/ethnic minority children and children living in the most deprived areas of the country. While interventions have been developed to address disparities in childhood obesity, few have been designed specifically for American Indian children. This study involved the development and pilot testing of a school garden intervention for Navajo Nation children. School gardens were chosen as the intervention because they’ve been known to increase access to fresh fruit and vegetables and the consumption of healthy foods. Navajo Nation residents generally have limited access to fresh fruit and vegetables, which contributes to poor diet quality among the Navajo people.

A small Navajo Nation school in Shiprock, New Mexico participated in this study. The school, which serves elementary students in grades K-5, offers a strong emphasis on the Navajo language and culture. Students, caregivers, and school staff worked with the researchers in developing a garden-based intervention program consisting of an on-site school garden paired with a nutrition and gardening education curriculum for elementary students. The team also worked to integrate Navajo traditions into the nutrition and gardening lessons. The garden-based intervention was pilot-tested by the Navajo Nation school throughout the 2016-2017 academic year. The curriculum lessons were conducted approximately twice a month, with each lesson lasting about 60 minutes. Each lesson included hands-on work in the garden. Two trained intervention staff with backgrounds in health, education and gardening conducted the lessons. School staff, including teachers, often assisted. “Curriculum summary sheets” completed after each lesson and weekly team meetings held throughout the year provided data for the pilot-testing of the curriculum.

Findings from a review of the data highlight the importance of incorporating Diné (Navajo Nation) culture into the curriculum and tying the curriculum to state and Diné educational standards. Findings also showed that students enjoyed the hands-on garden activities and using what they grew in the garden for preparing snacks.

This research indicates that garden-based interventions “that draw on cultural strengths and include healthy traditional practices can be a promising strategy for increasing fruit and vegetable consumption.” Such interventions can play a meaningful role in addressing childhood obesity among Navajo children.