Most of the premature death and disability in the United States can be attributed to chronic diseases such as coronary heart disease, hypertension, type II diabetes, cancer, and obesity (McGinnis & Foege, 1993). Although these diseases typically do not manifest before middle adulthood, many experts recommend that efforts to prevent chronic disease be directed toward children and adolescents (Simons-Morton, O'Hara, Simons-Morton, & Parcel, 1987; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1990). These recommendations have been based on the knowledge that the pathogenic processes that lead to chronic disease can begin early in life (Pate & Blair, 1978; Williams, Carter, & Wynder, 1981).
Physical inactivity is a well established risk factor for cardiovascular disease (Fletcher et al., 1996) and epidemiological studies published over the past decade suggest that inactivity is also associated with increased risk for several other chronic diseases (Pate et al., 1995). Regular participation in physical activity has long been recognized as essential to normal development in children (American Academy of Pediatrics Committees on Sports Medicine and School Health, 1987; American College of Sports Medicine, 1988), and in recent years, promotion of physical activity in children and adolescents has become a recognized goal of public health authorities. An expert panel recently recommended that adolescent youth accumulate at least 30 min of moderate-intensity physical activity daily and complete at least three bouts of continuous, moderate-to-vigorous exercise on a weekly basis (Sallis & Patrick, 1994). These recommendations are consistent with the physical activity objectives for adolescents included in Healthy People 2000 (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1990).
National surveys conducted over the past decade have consistently observed that substantial percentages of U.S. adolescents fail to meet the aforementioned physical activity objectives (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1992; Ross & Gilbert, 1985). For example, a recent analysis of data from the Youth Risk Behavior Survey showed that 51.4% of boys and 76.3% of girls failed to achieve the recommendation for participation in vigorous physical activity (Heath, Pratt, Warren, & Kann, 1994). Such findings underscore the need for physical activity intervention programs for children and adolescents.
To maximize the effectiveness of these programs, it is important to understand the demographic, psychosocial, and environmental factors that influence physical activity behavior in youth. Analyses of national survey data as well as other studies have shown age and gender to be important determinants of physical activity behavior in youth (Pate, Long, & Heath, 1994; Sallis, 1993); however, considerably less is known about the more modifiable psychosocial and environmental determinants of physical activity behavior. Indeed, a national consensus panel recently concluded that identifying the determinants of physical activity behavior in youth was a research priority (Sallis et al., 1992). Furthermore, because chronic disease morbidity and mortality are known to be disproportionately high among minority populations (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1994), it seems particularly important to investigate the determinants of a key health behavior such as physical activity in African American youth. However, to date, much of the determinants research has been restricted to samples of predominantly white children living in urban settings. To fill this void in the research literature, the purpose of this study was to examine an array of potential demographic, psychosocial, and environmental correlates of physical activity in a group of fifth-grade students residing in rural, predominantly African American communities.
All 558 fifth-grade students in two rural …