During the past 3 decades, the number of overweight adolescents increased while adolescent engagement in physical activity decreased. We investigated the prevalence of overweight and physical activity levels among economically disadvantaged and minority middle- and high-school students in a school district in Florida. In particular, data on physical activity levels of middle-school students are limited and needed for prevention and intervention planning. In addition, because of state education policies, students in Florida are less likely than students nationally to enroll in physical education, placing them at a higher risk for decreased physical activity levels.
We used multivariate methodology to analyze physical activity levels among 526 students from 3 middle and 2 high schools in southwest Florida.
Forty percent of students met criteria for overweight or obesity. Overall, less than 45% of students reported engaging in daily physical activity. Boys reported higher levels of physical activity than did girls, and a decline in physical activity levels was observed between grades 6 and 9, especially among minority girls (ie, African American and Latino). Lack of time was identified as the greatest barrier to engaging in physical activity.
This study documents health disparities among minority students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds in an urban school district. Participation in daily physical activity was below recommended guidelines across grades. We found numerous barriers to engaging in physical activity, which will enable local education agencies to evaluate their current physical activity policies and identify alternative physical activities for these youth.