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Leisure Time Physical Activity Differences Between Male and Female Latinos

               Physical inactivity has reached epidemic proportions across all age, social, ethnic and economic categories in the United States (Bocarro, Kanters, & Casper 2006). However, it is most prevalent among ethnic and racial minority groups (Trost et al., 1997). The National Health Interview Survey found that while 36% of non-Latino Whites abstain from any form of physical activity, the same was true for 54% of Latinos (Crespo, 2000). Moreover, physical inactivity was shown to be much more widespread among Latina women than Latino men, regardless of their education level, occupation or marital status (Crespo, 2000). In one survey, 65% of Mexican American men and 74% of Mexican American women reported that they participated in little or no leisure-time physical activity (Crespo, Keteyian, Heath, & Sempos, 1996).  These findings are particularly alarming because evidence suggests that low rates of physical activity are linked to high obesity rates (Crespo et al., 2000). Again, the effects are especially evident among Latina women as clinical studies indicate that over 70% of Latina women are overweight, and of those, about 40% are obese (American Heart Association, 2003).  Moreover, diabetes is often linked to obesity (Mokdad et al., 2003), and both health problems may be exacerbated by physical inactivity (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1996).  Government data indicates that 14% of Latinos and 8% of Whites are diabetic (CDC, 2005), and that Latinos are 1.5 times more likely to die of diabetes than Whites (Office of Minority Health, n.d.).  Therefore, promoting physical activity among Latinos is particularly important.  One way of promoting healthy lifestyles is to encourage active participation in parks and public lands. Studying park use patterns has been an area of interest for several years (i.e., Dwyer & Hutchison, 1990; Gobster, 2002; Ho et al., 2005; Tinsley, Tinsley, & Croskeys, 2002), and many of these studies have examined both gender and ethnic variations in park use, although fewer (i.e., Chavez, 1992; Floyd, Gramann, & Saenz, 1993) have focused specifically on Latinos or Mexican Americans.  Although there has been quite a bit of research on trail use, there has been a paucity of research that has specifically examined trail use among Latinos. Without a better understanding of Latinos’ park visitation patterns and their overall health and physical activity patterns, methods to encourage activity may be ineffective or culturally insensitive. Therefore, the purpose of this analysis was to better understand physical activity patterns between male and female Latinos.


The purpose of this multi-year national study was to identify and compare realized health benefits from urban public lands across the recreation opportunity spectrum. A sub question focused on differences in realized health benefits between male and female Latinos. Onsite questionnaires were employed to interview users at two sites selected in each of the following metropolitan areas: Los Angeles, Minneapolis, and Chicago.  At each location, an urban-proximate (e.g., city park) and an urban-distant site (e.g. national forest or state park 50 miles or more from city) were selected.  Data collection took place through the spring, summer and fall of 2006.  Trained field personnel kept track of response rates and logged information about “unapproachable” visitors (e. g., number in group, reason could not approach, activity, etc.).  The average response rates were as follows:  83.3% for MN sites, 60.4% for CA sites, and 79.0% for IL sites.  Out of a total sample of 1,726 respondents, 37.9% (n = 639) self-identified as “Hispanic or Latino” and for the purposes of this specific study, only the data obtained from these respondents are considered. Among these respondents, 66.5% reported that they were not born in the United States. They also indicated a preference for bilingual communication as evidenced by their responses to the question, “What languages do you prefer to use” at home, for radio/television, for magazines/newspapers, for music, and at parties/get-togethers.  For instance, 44.7% of respondents preferred to use only non-English and 45.3% preferred two languages equally for communication in the home.  There were equal numbers of women and men (317 each), and the men were slightly older (men’s M = 37; women’s M = 35; t = 2.08; p <.05). To determine the leisure time physical activities participants were engaged in, respondents were asked “What is your main activity today” and were given a list of various activities (jogging, swimming, relaxing, biking, etc).  Respondents were also asked about specific park amenities/characteristics.  More specifically, they were asked, “How important are each of the following when you choose this area for physical activity?” on a 5-point Likert-type scale (ranging from 1=very important to 5=very unimportant).  Several questions were asked to gain greater insight into respondents overall health.  They were asked “Where do you usually do your physical activity?” and were given the following response options: “this area,” “a different park/recreation area,” “home,” “school,” ”fitness center,” and “other.”  Individual height and weight information was collected to calculate respondents’ Body Mass Index (BMI).  A BMI of 25-30 is considered overweight, with over 30 as obese.  Respondents were also asked to indicate the number of days per week they participate in physical activity at both a moderate level (causes small increases in breathing or heart rate) and at a vigorous level (causes large increases in breathing or heart rate) for at least 10 minutes.


            The average length of stay was just under three hours (2 hrs 45 min).  In terms of their main activity at the sites, Latino males and females participated in similar activities, but in different rank order.  For women, the most common activities were playing with kids, relaxing, picnicking, and walking/hiking, respectively.  The most frequently identified activities for the men were similar, although they were in a slightly different order: relaxing, playing with kids, walking/hiking, and picnicking.  Interestingly, when asked, “Do you come here for physical activity?” 61% of the men and 56% of the women indicated yes (X2 = 1.39; NS), although their most common activity choices represented both active and passive activities.  Factors influencing site selection for physical activity found overall commonality, but two differences were found between male and female respondents. As a group, the most important amenities/characteristics were “beauty,” “restrooms,” and “cleanliness of facilities.” (M = 1.36).  These were followed closely by “maintenance” (M = 1.37), “feeling safe from crime” (M = 1.41), and “walking/hiking/biking paths” (M = 1.43). The least important items were “parking” (M = 1.72), “lighting” (M = 1.77), and “rental equipment available” (M=2.24). It is noteworthy that out of all the amenities/characteristics, only one item (rental equipment available) had an average greater than 2.0 (important).  In other words, almost all the items listed on the questionnaire were very important or important to visitor’s choosing this area for physical activities.  Gender comparisons revealed that there were significant differences on only two items: women rated “feeling safe from crime” (F =8.34; p < .05) and “feeling safe from injury” (F = 8.56; p < .05) more important than did men.          Differences in physical activity locations and perceived health status existed.  As a group, the greatest percentage (46.5%) participated in physical activity in the area in which they were contacted, followed by home (39.4%), different park/recreation area (19.4%), fitness center (11.7%) and school (1.7%).  Women and men significantly differed on their response to two items.  More women reported that they usually exercised at home (X2=5.93; p <.9) and more men reported that they exercised in this area (X2 = 4.61; p < .05).  Further, some respondents (n = 49; 7.7%) wrote in that they usually do their physical activity at work.  Women and men rated their overall health differently (X2= 11.61; p < .05) in that more men reported that their health was “very good” or “excellent” whereas more women reported that their health was “poor,” “fair,” or “good.”  Interestingly, even though women were more likely to rate their overall health lower than did men, there was not a statistical difference by gender (F = 2.80; NS) in average BMI’s (Women’s M = 26.49; Men’s M = 27.21). When asked about the number of days per week they participated in moderate level activities, women and men did not differ in their response (Women’s M = 4.17 days; Men’s M = 4.33 days).  However, men spent more “total time per day” doing moderate activities (Women’s M = 1:34: Men’s M = 2:01; F = 5.60; p < .05). When asked about physical activity at a vigorous level, there was a significant gender difference in terms of number of days (Women’s M = 1.91 days; Men’s M = 2.50 days; F = 8.74; p < .05) and in total time per day (Women’s M = 1:00; Men’s M = 1:30; F = 11.20; p < .01).

Conclusions and Discussion

            Both women and men reported high rates of moderate physical activity, which is contrary to other studies (e.g., Crespo, 2000). Our findings indicated that respondents participated in moderate physical activities an average of 4 days a week, and their total average amount of time was more than 90 minutes each day (the CDC has recommended 30 minutes 5 or more days per week). This high level of activity may be due to surveying people who were already at a park, or it may be due to different cultural/gendered definitions of physical activity (i.e. women were more likely to report that they did physical activity at home – this may include childcare or household duties). Further, our findings are limited by using self-reported physical activity data rather than more objective measures. Self-report measures tend to overestimate physical activity levels, although they are common for population studies due to practicality and because they do not alter behavior (Kriska, 2000).  However, even overestimated values are useful in relative terms to examine relationships and compare groups. Childcare played a large role in women’s experiences at the park in that  “playing with kids” was the most popular activity for women whereas “relaxing” was the most popular activity for men. This reflects a strong ethic of care in Latina mothers (Miller & Brown, 2005) as well as distinct gender roles.  As some studies reported, Latino women have the highest levels of household and care-giving duties (Sternfeld et al. 1999), and Castro et al. (1999) identified lack of child-care as one of the barriers for minority (particularly Latina) women’s physical activity participation. Despite their reported physical activity levels, the average BMI for both women and men was in the “overweight” category.  Moreover, even though men were on average slightly more overweight than women, they were more likely to indicate that their health was “good” or “excellent.” As a point of comparison, our results indicated that women’s average BMI was 26.49 and men’s was 27.21, compared to the National Health and Nutrition Survey that reported Mexican-American men’s average BMI was 28.0 and Mexican-American women’s average of 29.0 (Ogden et al., 2004).  Promoting physical activity among high risk groups like Latinos is important, and understanding differences between women’s and men’s physical activity patterns is necessary to better serve this subpopulation. 


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