Can participating in a local food cooperative improve mental health? Researchers investigated the mental health benefits of local food projects.
Worldwide, mental health disorders affect one in four people during their lifetime Due to the associated stigma, almost 66% of those who suffer from mental illness never seek treatment.
Researchers have previously identified a link between local food projects and improved physical health. However, they had not studied whether the benefits would extend from physical health to mental health. UK researchers have recently published a study in the Journal of Public Health, which investigated whether local food projects are a simple way to improve mental health.
Local food projects have been a growing movement over the past ten years. Local food projects include community gardens, allotments, farmers’ markets, community-supported agriculture, and food buying cooperatives. People that participate in growing local foods get more exercise and also score better than non-gardeners in measures of mental health. Eating fresh fruits and vegetables improves not only one’s diet but one’s mental health too.
To measure whether participating in local food projects was a simple way to improve mental health, researchers developed a questionnaire designed to determine the difference between those who participated in local food projects and those who did not. Four hundred and fifty-nine people participated in the study.
The participants were divided into two groups: participants in local food projects and non-participants. They were surveyed about their diet, nature connectedness, independence, competence, relatedness, and physical activity (indoor and outdoor).
Researchers found that participants in local food projects scored higher in the areas of diet, nature connectedness, independence, competence, and relatedness. There was no significant difference in the participants’ scores in indoor and outdoor physical activity. Researchers determined that the more time participants spent involved in local food projects, the better the participant’s mental health and sense of well-being. Participants felt better about themselves while participating in local food projects because it helped to meet their basic psychological needs, helped them eat better, and increased their connection to nature.
These connections and feelings of well-being decreased the participants’ anxiety and depression levels compared to those who did not participate in local food projects. Researchers also found that people who were experiencing mental ill-health could also benefit from participating in local food projects.
The researchers would like further study into local food projects as a way to improve mental health through a survey of a larger and more gender-balanced group, different types of local food projects, and additional details on the participants.
The study clearly showed that getting involved in a local food project is an excellent way to improve mental health. Whether going to the farmer’s market, growing produce in a local cooperative, or joining a CSA, eating local improves one’s diet and outlook on life.
Written by: Rebecca K. Blankenship, B.Sc.
Bharucha Z, Weinstein N, Watson D, Boehm S. Participation in local food projects is associated with better psychological well-being: evidence from the East of England. Journal of Public Health. 2019. doi:10.1093/pubmed/fdz057
WHO | Mental disorders affect one in four people. Who.int. https://www.who.int/whr/2001/media_centre/press_release/en/. Published 2019. Accessed July 12, 2019.
Mental Health in America – Access to Care Data 2018. Mental Health America. https://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/issues/mental-health-america-access-care-data-2018. Published 2019. Accessed July 12, 2019.