Academic journal article Journal of School Health

Participation in Physical Activity among Normal- and Overweight Hispanic and Non-Hispanic White Adolescents

Academic journal article Journal of School Health

Participation in Physical Activity among Normal- and Overweight Hispanic and Non-Hispanic White Adolescents

Article excerpt


The United States is in the midst of a childhood obesity epidemic. The most recent National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) showed that the prevalence of overweight (defined as body mass index [BMI] > 95% for age) among adolescents aged 12-19 years has increased more than 3-fold since 1966-1970 (16.1% vs 5.2%). (1,2) This epidemic is affecting minority children and adolescents disproportionately, including Mexican Americans NHANES data from 1999 to 2004 find that prevalence of overweight among Mexican American boys and girls is significantly greater than non-Hispanic white (NHW) boys and girls, respectively. (1) In 2001, the Surgeon General issued a "call to action to prevent and decrease overweight and obesity," (3) and Healthy People 2010 lists "overweight and obesity" as 1 of 10 high priority public health issues in the United States. (4)

Leading researchers suggest that modern industrialization resulting in less physical activity (PA) and more sedentary behavior may explain much of the rising tide of pediatric obesity. (5,6) Insufficient PA and increased sedentary behaviors, including TV viewing, have been associated with adiposity in youth enrolled in several cross-sectional surveys. (7-9) Recent studies using accelerometers to quantitatively measure PA have found fewer bouts of moderate and vigorous activity among overweight and obese individuals compared with normal weight individuals. (10-14)

Unfortunately, a large percentage of US adolescents do not report participation in PA at recommended levels. National surveys estimate that 33.4% of US 9-12th grade students did not participate in sufficient moderate or vigorous activity in the past week. (15) Although few studies have measured ethnic differences, (16) a national survey of 12,759 students grades 7-12, including 2185 Hispanics, reported significantly fewer bouts of low-intensity PA for Hispanics compared with their NHW peers. (17) Another survey of 1119 middle school students in Northern California showed lower PA levels in "Latinos" as compared with "non-Latino whites." (18) However, these surveys comparing ethnicities did not consider the impact of body weight categories as a result of PA. Given the large and increasing number of Hispanic adolescents in the United States and their increased rates of overweight and inactivity, it is especially important that studies of overweight and PA focus on this ethnic group.

The purpose of this study was to assess participation in PA of a large cohort of normal weight and overweight Hispanic and NHW adolescents aged 14-17 living in south Texas. We were interested in answering the following questions: Are NHW adolescents more physically active than Hispanics? Are normal weight adolescents more physically active than overweight adolescents? And, do ethnic differences exist in the reported PAs among the gender-specific weight status groups?


Study Design

This is a cross-sectional study using data from the Healthy Youth/Healthy Adults Study conducted by the Corpus Christi-Nueces County Health District in Nueces County, TX, in collaboration with the University of Minnesota School of Public Health in Minneapolis.


The target population was students enrolled in Nueces County high schools in 2000-2001. A weighted 2-stage sampling scheme was implemented to include a larger number of rural schools in the sample. Twelve of 25 schools in Nueces County were randomly selected to participate in the study. A convenience sample of classrooms was selected from first (homeroom) to fourth (English) period classes required for 9th and 10th grade students.

The study sample was 1870 students, mostly 9th and 10th graders (93.5% response rate), including 1344 Hispanics (71.9%), 406 NHWs (21.7%), 90 African Americans (4.8%), 17 Pacific Islanders (0.9%), 9 Asians (0.5%), and 4 American Indians (0.2%). …

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