Promoting Physical Activity in Latinx Preschool Children

A child rides his bike to get exercise

New research from the Pitt School of Education examines the impact of using community health professionals to increase physical activity levels of Latinx children.

March 01, 2020

A growing body of research shows that Latinx preschool children have higher rates of obesity than children from other racial or ethnic groups.

In response to this public health concern, University of Pittsburgh School of Education faculty member Sharon Ross is studying the impact of home-based interventions delivered by members of the Latinx community. Promotoras are peer health educators who are trained to offer basic health education without being professional health care workers. 

“The promotora model has been effective at promoting health and behavior change in Latinx populations. The reason this approach is so attractive is because it is inherently culturally-relevant and has the potential for sustainability. These promotoras are typically trusted members of the community and can enhance the cultural receptivity of the intervention as well as improve participant reach and retention,” said Ross.

Ross is currently conducting a pilot study in the City of Pittsburgh to measure the impact of a promotora-led intervention on physical activity for Latinx parents and their children. A total of 15 pairs of parents and their children are involved. 

In the study, promotoras will conduct eight weekly sessions in the homes of parents with children between the ages of 3 and 5. The visits will focus on increasing children’s physical activity in the home environment through actions like engaging in more active play, budgeting the child’s electronic screen time, and reducing parental stress through mindfulness and meditation.

The physical activity levels of the parents and their children will be tracked over time. It will be monitored both through self-reporting, interview assessments, and waist-worn accelerometer to objectively track activity levels. The results will be measured for before, during, and after the intervention. 

“This study is significant because it will assess acute and post-intervention changes in physical activity in children and parents, measured both objectively and subjectively. That will provide important information regarding potential strategies to increase Latino preschool children’s physical activity within the home environment,” said Ross.

Ross is an assistant professor in the School of Education’s department of Health and Human Development. The school offers degree and certificate programs in health and physical activity. 

She received a grant in the amount of $20,000 from the School of Education’s Healthy Lifestyle Institute to support the pilot study. The grant is from the HLI’s Pilot and Feasibility Funding Program, which provides $100,000 in grants annually to help researchers from across the University of Pittsburgh initiate their health and physical activity research projects.

When Ross’ pilot study is complete, she plans to submit a research proposal for a larger grant with the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). 

“Though this is a pilot study, it will get us one step closer to identifying key home-based strategies that can promote physical activity in Latino preschool children and their families, targeting health disparities in this socially-marginalized group,” said Ross.

About the Faculty

Sharon Elizabeth Ross

Sharon Elizabeth Ross

Sharon E. Ross is a faculty member who specializes in the study of health, physical activity, and exercise. Due to her interest in health equity research, she has a special emphasis on the study of the effects on historically marginalized populations.

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