Ethnicity as a Moderator of the Theory of Planned Behavior and Physical Activity in College Students

By Blanchard, Chris M.; Kupperman, Janet et al. | Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, December 2007 | Go to article overview

Ethnicity as a Moderator of the Theory of Planned Behavior and Physical Activity in College Students


Blanchard, Chris M., Kupperman, Janet, Sparling, Phil, Nehl, Eric, Rhodes, Ryan E., Courneya, Kerry S., Baker, Frank, Hunt, Tiffany, Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport


Most college students do not meet physical activity (PA) guidelines, and ethnic disparities exist. The present study examined the utility of the theory of planned behavior (TPB) in explaining PA intentions and behavior in black and white college students and whether any TPB relationships were moderated by ethnicity. Black (n = 170) and white (n = 180) students completed a baseline TPB questionnaire and PA assessment 2 weeks later. Hierarchical latent variable regression analyses showed that affective attitude, subjective norm, and perceived behavioral control (PBC) were significant predictors of intention for both ethnic groups, whereas the PBC-intention relationship was significantly stronger for white students. Intention significantly predicted PA for both ethnic groups. Furthermore, common and ethnic-specific beliefs were identified.

Key words: black vs. white, health behavior, TPB

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The majority of college students in the United States (i.e., up to 85%) and internationally (i.e., up to 70%) are not meeting physical activity (PA) guidelines (American College Health Association, 2004; Haase, Steptoe, Sallis & Wardle, 2004). Furthermore, there appears to be an ethnic disparity in PA levels for adults ages 18-24 years, which shows that whites are more likely to meet the PA recommendations compared to blacks (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2003). Given these low participation rates, it is not surprising that Healthy People 2010 specifically identified postsecondary educational institutions as settings where young adults (18-24 years) should be targeted for PA promotion. Postsecondary institutions have more influence on the lives of young people than any other social institution except the family and provide a setting in which friendship networks develop, socialization occurs, and norms that govern behavior are developed and reinforced. For these reasons, postsecondary institutions can play an important role in increasing PA levels of black and white college students by influencing how they think about PA and providing a place where opinions and behaviors contributing to PA can be addressed via interventions (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2000).

When considering this particular environment for a PA intervention, previous research suggests that the intervention should be culturally relevant to the black and white populations (Banks-Wallace & Conn, 2002; Marcus, King, Clark, Pinto & Bock, 1996; Taylor, Baranowski & Young, 1998). Furthermore, previous researchers (Taylor et al., 1998; Michie & Abraham, 2004) have suggested that such an intervention needs to be based on a guiding theoretical framework and that it is essential first to determine how a given theory predicts PA for a specific ethnic group and, if necessary, identify modifications that need to be made to the theory to maximize its effectiveness for a particular ethnic group. In doing so, one can then use these theory-based antecedents of behavior change (Michie & Abraham, 2004) to develop a multicultural PA intervention that meets the needs of both ethnic groups simultaneously.

An important question to ask is which theory should be used to guide a multicultural PA intervention in college students? To date, research exploring the ethnic disparity in PA has used theories such as stages of change in middle school-age students (Frenn & Malin, 2003) and college students (Suminski & Petosa, 2002) and social cognitive theory in adults (Anderson et al., 2006). Although findings from these studies are important, none of them identified ethnic-specific correlates of PA. On the other hand, one theory that has begun to identify common (i.e., between blacks and whites) and ethnic-specific correlates of PA is the theory of planned behavior (TPB; Azjen, 1991). The TPB suggests that an individual's intention to engage in PA is the immediate predictor of PA. Within the TPB, an individual's intention has three determinants. …

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