African American youth residing in the South are at high risk for obesity and physical inactivity. A growing body of evidence suggests that persons living in activity-friendly environments engage in more physical activity (PA); however, access of public recreational facilities varies by neighborhood and demographic characteristics. Additionally, historical and social factors, cultural values and beliefs, and neighborhood characteristics may limit the use of activity-friendly built environments, even when accessible.
This study examined demographic and sociocultural predictors of moderate to vigorous physical activity among African American young adolescents residing in metro Birmingham, AL.
Using a cross sectional design, we collected self-report data on variables previously linked to physical activity in youth including child and parent demographic characteristics, socioeconomic status, social support, and perceived safety from 116 African American youth (ages 12-16) and their parents (n=86). In addition, youth physical activity was measured using Actigraph (model # GT1M) uniaxial accelerometers over the course of one week. Descriptive statistics were used for all variables to characterize the participants. Cross tabulations using the χ2 statistic or ANOVA depending on the measure were generated to examine unadjusted gender and income differences in sociodemographics, neighborhood factors, and physical activity. Multivariate linear regression models were estimated to identify the predictors of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) in our study sample. Youth physical activity was calculated according to currently recommended youth cutpoints for moderate (4 to 6.9 METs) and vigorous (> 7 METs) physical activity.
The mean age of youth in the study was 14 and there were slightly more females (57%). Parents, on average, were married and had completed some college. Average family annual household income was between $30,000 and $60,000. Youth in the study spent an average of 30 minutes per day engaged in moderate to vigorous physical activity, with noted difference by gender (p<.0001). Further, results from multivariate models suggest that increasing age is negatively associated with time spent in weekly moderate-vigorous physical activity (p<0.10). Male gender, parent marital status, and parent-reported social support for physical activity, in particular-“watching the child participate in physical activity item” was a positive, statistically significant predictor of increased time for weekly MVPA (p<0.05). Individual parental perceptions of neighborhood safety, parent income, and number of TVs in the home were not significant predictors of weekly MVPA.
African American young adolescents in this study engaged in half of the current recommendations for youth physical activity. Similar to prior studies, boys were more likely to engage in MVPA than girls. Further, parental influences (marital status, social support) were key predictors of increased activity. Efforts to increase physical activity among African American young adolescents should include exploration of gender-specific interventions. Family-based and/or family-supported programs may also be particularly effective. Finally, there is a need to further explore the social and cultural environment and its influence on youth activity.
This grant was awarded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation through Active Living Research (Grant # 65659).