Evaluating return on investment in a school based health promotion and prevention program: the investment multiplier for the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden National Program
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Successful health promotion and disease prevention strategies in complex community settings such as primary schools rely on acceptance and ownership across community networks. Assessing multiplier impacts from investment on related community activity over time are suggested as key alongside evidence of program health effects on targeted groups of individuals in gauging community network engagement and ownership, dynamic impacts, and program long term success and return on investment. An Australian primary school based health promotion and prevention strategy, the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden National Program (SAKGNP), which has been providing garden and kitchen classes for year 3 to 6 students since 2008, was evaluated between 2011 and 2012. Returns on Australian Federal Government investment for school infrastructure grants up to $60,000 are assessed up to and beyond a two year mutual obligation period with: (i) Impacts on student lifestyle behaviours, food choices and eating habits surveyed across students and parents in 28 SAKGNP and 14 matched schools, controlling for school and parent level confounders and triangulated with SAKGNP pre-post analysis; (ii) Multiplier impacts of investment on related school and wider community activity up to two years; and (iii) Evidence of continuation and program evolution in schools observed beyond two years. SAKGNP schools showed improved student food choices (p = 0.024) and kitchen lifestyle behaviour (p = 0.019) domains compared to controls and in pre-post analysis where 20.0% (58/290) reported eating fruit and vegetables more often and 18.6% (54/290) preparing food at home more often. No significant differences were found in case control analysis for eating habits or garden lifestyle behaviour domains, although 32.3% of children helped more in the garden (91/278) and 15.6% (45/289) ate meals together more often in pre-post analysis. The multiplier impact on total community activity up to two years was 5.07 ($226,737/$44,758); 1.60 attributable to school, and 2.47 to wider community, activity. All 8 schools observed beyond two years continued garden and kitchen classes, with an average 17% scaling up and one school fully integrating staff into the curriculum. In conclusion evidence supports the SAKGNP to be a successful health promotion program with high community network impacts and return on investment in practice.