Mujeres (In)activas: An Exploratory Study of Physical Activity among Adolescent Latinas

Article excerpt

Abstract

Recently, a significant growth in immigrant populations has influenced the social, cultural, and political landscape of many local communities. Understanding such changes in U.S. and local demography are central to effective efforts toward reducing physical inactivity, and associated health risks and diseases. In part to document the ways that physical activity currently fits into particular women's lives, and as critique of the essentialized notions of immigrant communities as deficient in their health standards, we set out to investigate just how physically active Latinas in local communities were. The research was guided by the following two questions: 1) What are the social conditions under which adolescent Latinas make choices about physical activity? 2) To what extent are adolescent Latinas involved in physical activity? Centering on these two questions we administered questionnaires that measured current physical activity involvement, and individual and family background factors. Survey data indicate that Latina physical activity scores increase when home and work related physical activity is included in a self-report measure.

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Recent significant growth in immigrant populations has influenced the social, cultural, and political landscape of both local and global communities. Understanding such changes in local, U.S., and global demography is central to effective efforts toward reducing physical inactivity and associated health risks and diseases (Crespo, 2000). However, a focus on biological aspects of physical activity among immigrant adolescents (e.g., obesity and diabetes risk factors among Hispanic youth) offers very little understanding of the social conditions that influence young girls decisions about physical activity involvement. In this paper, we present findings from a descriptive study of 60 adolescent, immigrant and first generation Latinas residing in the southern United States. The research was guided by the following two purposes: 1) to examine the background of immigrant families and their physical activity levels, and 2) to document physical activity involvement among Latina adolescents. Two surveys were administered to measure current physical activity involvement and individual and family background factors. In this paper, we present descriptive data regarding the context and pattern of physical activity involvement among this selected sample of adolescent Latinas.

Physical Activity in the Lives of U.S. Latinas

Important questions about physical activity and leisure involvement among minority groups remain unanswered (Juniu, 2000; Shaw, 2001; Stodolska, 1998; 2000). Specifically, minority group members have yet to be treated as active subjects in their own leisure and health pursuits. Much previous research on minority engagement in physical activity and leisure, though provocative and integral to laying a groundwork for future studies, emerged out of what can broadly be defined analytically as "deficiency models." In general, previous studies indicate that American-Hispanics are typically less physically active than are their non-Hispanic White counterparts (Crespo, 2000; Crespo, Smit, Carter-Pokras, and Andersen, 2001; King, Castro, Wilcox, Eyler, Sallis, and Brownson, 2000; Brownson, Eyler, King, Brown, Shyu, and Sallis, 2000). Recent intellectual questions about the cultural and linguistic appropriateness of standard measures of physical activity for diverse communities suggest a need for temperance when digesting results of large scale, standard measures of physical activity. In this analysis, we began with the assumption that multiple factors may significantly influence physical activity patterns among Latinas (Crespo, 2000; Crespo, Smit, Carter-Pokras, and Andersen, 2001; King et al. 2000; Brownson et al. 2000), and that identifying those at community levels is crucial to effective promotion of physical activity.

Social and Environmental Factors

Examinations of the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS), and The Third National Health and Nutrition Examination on Survey (NHANESIII) data sets demonstrated that physical inactivity during leisure time was highest for non-Hispanic black women and Hispanic women, and that ethnicity and place of residence were related to levels of leisure time physical inactivity (Crespo, 2000; Crespo, et al. …