June 13, 2008

Influence of family on Latino children’s activity levels strong

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A study by Sabina Gesell, Ph.D., right, here with Shari Barkin, M.D., sheds new light on the influence of family on Latino children’s activity levels. (photo by Neil Brake)

Influence of family on Latino children’s activity levels strong

A study by researchers at the Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt and Wake Forest University shows that the influence of family members on overweight Latino childrens' activity levels is especially strong.

Sabina Gesell, Ph.D., research assistant professor of Pediatrics, is author of the study entitled “Social influences on self-reported physical activity in overweight Latino children,” published in this month's online preview for the journal Clinical Pediatrics.

“We found that Latino childrens' activity levels were most strongly associated with social influences around them. Specifically, the support and encouragement friends and family members provide helps the child to be physically active,” Gesell said.

Previous studies have found that adults and adolescents are impacted by attitudes about physical activity, like being embarrassed to exercise, or beliefs about exercise, like afear of injury, and by confidence in their skills and ability to be active.

“Latino children were not influenced by those factors. The family was the most reliable indicator,” said Gesell.

In the study, 114 Wake Forest University area pre-adolescent, overweight Latino children ages 8 to 12 were interviewed about their activity levels and what might influence them.

A self-reported Physical Activity Scale (PAS) was used to assess how vigorously children were exercising before and after school.

Then they were asked a series of questions to tease out how attitudes, beliefs and social influences affect their exercise level.

In social influences, children were asked how strongly they agreed or disagreed with statements like “Someone in my family has offered to be physically active with me in the past two weeks” and “My friends think I should be physically active.”

Children who reported low levels of positive social influence on being active also reported being less active, while attitudes and beliefs did not correlate strongly with their activity levels.

“In the Latino culture, family is core to all behaviors — there is such pride in parenting,” Gesell said. “‘Familia’ means more than the mother and father and immediate family, but also extended family and friends in a larger family community. If we can get these familias to see encouragement of exercising as a way to be good parents, that should work well with this population.”

Gesell and her associates will be testing an intervention that will include parenting classes that emphasize guiding children to be more physically active and eat healthier.

That intervention will be part of a large community intervention with Metro Parks and Recreation at the Coleman Community Center in the Nolensville Road area this summer.