Physical Activity Participation in African American Churches

By Bopp, Melissa; Wilcox, Sara et al. | Journal of Cultural Diversity, Spring 2009 | Go to article overview

Physical Activity Participation in African American Churches


Bopp, Melissa, Wilcox, Sara, Laken, Marilyn, McClorin, Lottie, Journal of Cultural Diversity


Abstract: The potential benefit of physical activity (PA) programs delivered through churches is largely unexamined. This study examined availability of PA programs, interpersonal support for PA, and PA participation in African-American churches. Individuals from a random sample of 20 churches in South Carolina participated in a telephone survey (N=571). Forty two percent of respondents reported PA programs at their churches . Walking programs (20%), aerobics (22 % ) or a combination of both (20%) were most common. Respondents who reported having these programs were more likely to meet PA recommendations than those who did not (p=0.05). Larger churches were more likely to offer PA programs (p=0.02) than small or medium sized churches. Only 24% of respondents had spoken with the health director at their church about participating in a PA program, and only 25% and 33% had ever spoken with another church member about a PA program or were encouraged to join a PA program, respectively. Individuals with more interpersonal support from other church members for PA were significantly more likely to meet PA recommendations (p=0.01). This study indicates that program and interpersonal supports within African American churches may offer a venue for increasing PA among members.

KeyWords: Physical Activity, Faith-Based, Social Support, Ethnic Minority

Regular physical activity (PA) participation has well-documented physical and mental health benefits for people of all ages(Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee, 2008). Despite these known benefits, a large portion of the population remain underactive or sedentary, especially ethnic minorities. Caucasian adults are more likely to meet current PA guidelines (51.4% met recommendations) (Haskell et al., 2007) when compared with African Americans (40.4%) (Centers for Disease Control Prevention, 2009). These observed differences in PA participation between Caucasians and African Americans remain when educational levels and household incomes are similar (Seefeldt, Malina, & Clark, 2002). It is critical to find effective ways to increase PA in African Americans, as this group experiences disproportionate disease burden associated with obesity and inactivity that PA could positively impact. For example, cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death for African American males and females, and African Americans have higher incidence rates of cardiovascular disease when compared with Caucasians of similar ages and socioeconomic statuses (American Heart Association, 2008). African Americans also have almost twice the risk of both first-time stroke and incidence of diabetes mellitus compared with Caucasians (American Heart Association, 2008).

Research has identified a number of demographic, psychological, social, and environmental correlates of PA in African Americans. For African American women, regular PA participation has been positively associated with higher education levels, being married, higher perceived health status, having social support for PA, having role models for PA, lower social strain, attempting weight loss, perceiving benefits of PA, and a favorable physical environment for PA (Ainsworth, Wilcox, Thompson, Richter, & Henderson, 2003; Eyler et al., 2002). Among African American men, regular participation in PA is positively correlated with higher education and income levels, having a physician discuss PA, attempting to lose weight, younger age, and living in a physical environment conducive to PA (Crespo, Ainsworth, Keteyian, Heath, & Smit, 1999; Macera, Croft, Brown, Ferguson, & Lane, 1995; Young, Miller, Wilder, Yanek, & Becker, 1998).

Previous PA interventions in African Americans have used a variety of approaches: family oriented, community oriented, church-based, or home-based with telephone or mail components (Banks- Wallace & Conn, 2002; Taylor, Baranowski, & Young, 1998). Though most of these interventions considered PA to be a variable of interest, weight loss or other cardiovascular disease risk factors have been the main dependent variable in many interventions, particularly in faith-based interventions. …

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