Sensation seeking tendencies tend to manifest during adolescence and are associated with both health-compromising behaviors and health-enhancing behaviors. The purpose of this study is to evaluate the relationship between sensation seeking and physical activity, a health-enhancing behavior, and between sensation seeking and experimenting with cigarettes, a health compromising-behavior, among a cohort of Mexican origin adolescents residing in the United States with different levels of acculturation.
In 2009, 1,154 Mexican origin youth (50.5% girls, mean age 14.3 years (SD = 1.04)) provided data on smoking behavior, physical activity, linguistic acculturation, and sensation seeking. We conducted Pearson’s χ2 tests to examine the associations between categorical demographic characteristics (i.e. gender, age, country of birth and parental educational attainment) and both cigarette experimentation and physical activity and Student’s t-tests to examine mean differences on the continuous variables (i.e. sensation seeking subscale) by the behaviors. We examined mean differences in the demographic characteristics, acculturation, and both behaviors for each of the sensation seeking subscales using analysis of variance (ANOVA). To examine relationships between the sensation seeking subscales, gender, and both behaviors, at different levels of acculturation we completed unconditional logistic regression analyses stratified by level of acculturation.
Overall, 23.3% had experimented with cigarettes and 29.0% reported being physically active for at least 60 minutes/day on at least 5 days/week. Experimenting with cigarettes and being physically active were more prevalent among boys than girls. Among girls, higher levels of sensation seeking tendencies were associated with higher levels of acculturation and experimentation with cigarettes, but not with physical activity. Among boys, higher levels of sensation seeking tendencies were associated with higher levels of acculturation, experimenting with cigarettes and being physically active.
Our results suggest that interventions designed to prevent smoking among Mexican origin youth may need to address social aspects associated with acculturation, paying close attention to gendered manifestations of sensation seeking.