HOUSTON, Feb. 14, 2008—Studies have shown that youthful playtime—running in the park or playing ball in the schoolyard—fades by the time children enter middle school years, sometimes with dangerous effects to their health. This is especially true if those children are low-income and Hispanic, studies show. Researchers with the University of Houston Department of Health and Human Performance want to know why, and what can be done about it.
An 18-month study will focus on 200 Hispanic fifth graders, monitor their daily physical activity and record their views on places to be active, such as parks or schoolyards. And because moms have so much influence in the home, the study will also examine how moms view those locations and how their views influence the childs likelihood of being active. The UH researchers will collaborate with Texas A&M University.
Were looking at what influences a childs desire to be active, or, in the case of moms, what makes them encourage their children to be active is it how safe they believe a nearby park is, the amount of lighting, the presence of gang activity, picnic tables—all these" said Norma Olvera, associate professor and principal investigator of the Urban Hispanic Perceptions of Environment and Activity among Kids (UH-PEAK) study. The study is funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) through Active Living Research, an RWJF national program.
We believe that by understanding the relationship between perception of our environment and intention to be physically active, we can design more informed interventions for children who most need them, said Olvera.
The participants will come from six area schools. While traditional research methods, such as recording each childs height, weight and percentage of body fat, will be employed, the study also will get a boost from technology as special devices are given to participants to help monitor their physical activity. For example, all children will be equipped with an accelerometer to monitor the number of times they move, an Ecological Momentary Assessment (EMA) device—which resembles a remote-control unit that randomly asks questions about physical activity, and a Global Positioning System to capture the students locations and the speeds at which they are being active. Mothers will also be fitted with EMA devices.
This is an important aspect to the study because it means our data will come from objective measures, Olvera said. To our knowledge, this is the first study that will provide such objective information about the physical activity of this population.
Work on UH-PEAK is expected to be completed in June 2009. Olvera anticipates presenting the data at the conference for Active Living Research in early 2009, along with her colleagues Dennis Smith and Jill A. Bush with the University of Houston and Chanam Lee with Texas A&M University.
Olveras research is specific to the Hispanic community and has often included the role mothers play in the nutritional and physical activity choices for their children. Her expertise includes the influence of parents in a childs body image and nutritional and physical activity habits, and the environmental factors that prevent or promote physical activity. Based on her research, Olvera developed the after-school healthy lifestyle program BOUNCE, Behavior Opportunities Uniting Nutrition and Counseling Education, which focuses on exercise and nutrition for middle-school girls and their mothers. For the last three years, she has offered a healthy summer program for Hispanic and African American girls, which was recognized by the Texas Public Health Association as a 2006 Nutrition and Physical Activity Best Practices program.