The American Heart Association and the Aetna Foundation have teamed up to build healthier minds and bodies by building Teaching Gardens, together. The American Heart Association is pleased to announce that the Aetna Foundation will sponsor a two-year, multi-phase Teaching Gardens program in Boston and Hartford, Conn.

The program will fund four Teaching Gardens at local schools in both cities between 2017 and 2019, providing materials needed to plant a real-life laboratory with garden-themed lessons in nutrition, math, science, and other subjects.

The American Heart Association Teaching Gardens program encompasses a core belief that when you educate children about nutritional choices, and challenge them to make small changes to improve their health, they will build a foundation of healthy habits – and even use them to empower their families at home. Lifelong habits are created during childhood, and the American Heart Association Teaching Gardens provide a unique experience for elementary school students to gain knowledge of planting seeds, nurturing plants, harvesting produce and ultimately choosing healthier eating habits.

“Our mission is to build a healthier world – one person, one family and one community at a time – and supporting the Teaching Gardens program is one way we are achieving that goal,” said Garth Graham, MD, MPH, president of the Aetna Foundation. “The children who participate don’t only learn about the importance of fresh, healthy food, but often share their knowledge and enthusiasm with their families, helping to improve health in their communities from the ground up.”

The first Teaching Gardens in Hartford will be hosted by Covenant Preparatory School and located on the campus of Jumoke Academy. The planting of the garden will take place on July 21, 2017, and will be led by a Teaching Gardens committee, parents, community leaders, employee volunteers and Aetna staff.

“Our students, parents and faculty are all excited to be participating in the Teaching Gardens program,” said Glenn Winfree, head of Covenant Preparatory School. “We believe that this is a great way to introduce ideas about nutrition to our students in a hands-on way, and also engage the rest of our community in the process.”

The Boston area placement will be at located at Quincy Heights in Dorchester with the planting taking place later this year.

In addition to the eight Teaching Gardens, Aetna will also provide a planting station at the Boston Heart Walk on Sept. 9, 2017, and at the Greater Hartford Heart Walk on Oct. 14, 2017. This will provide families and children the opportunity to interact and experience gardening firsthand. Interactive plantings will also take place at the 2018 Boston and Hartford walks.

“We are thrilled the Aetna Foundation will provide the support necessary to create eight Teaching Gardens and make a difference in the lives of the children in these communities”, said James Devlin, American Heart Association Vice President Founders Affiliate, eastern region. “Research shows the Teaching Gardens dramatically change the way children think about food and consume it, and those who participate in school gardening programs have a greater chance of trying and liking fruits and vegetables. These gardens provided by Aetna can make a lifelong impact on the health of those participating.”

Teaching Gardens can help teach children to learn what it truly means to be healthy; a first step in reversing the obesity epidemic. Enhancing the diets of children is essential – currently, less than one percent of the adult population and nearly no children ages 12-19 are in ideal heart-health, in large part due to the lack of a healthy diet. And if this trend continues, experts predict this generation to be the first to live shorter lives than their parents.

The gardens will not only offer education on nutrition and healthy food choices, they will ultimately help the students be more productive in school. Studies also show that normal weight children have higher scholastic achievement, less absenteeism and higher physical fitness levels than their obese counterparts. In fact, one study suggests that nutritional education, combined with garden-based learning, is more effective than either alone in changing students’ fruit or vegetable intake.

The Teaching Gardens program is part of a larger American Heart Association “Healthy For Good” healthy living initiative, designed to help Americans understand what it means to be healthy, and to take-action.

For more information about the Teaching Gardens program visit www.heart.org/teachinggardens.