According to new research published in the August edition of Social Science and Medicine, immigrant children, regardless of racial and ethnic background, lead more sedentary lifestyles compared to U.S.-born non-Hispanic white children.
A similar disparity was noted between U.S.-born non-Hispanic white children and minority children in general; however, this gap was smaller than the gap in activity associated with children of recent immigrants. U.S.-born black children in the research were 1.35 times as likely to have lower levels of physical activity, U.S.-born Hispanic children are 1.23 times as likely and U.S.-born children of unspecified ethnicity are 1.52 times as likely.
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“Children in immigrant families are at particular risk for low levels of physical activity, which we were unable to explain with a host of factors relating to family and neighborhood characteristics,” said study co-author, Rachel Kimbro, in a press release.
“These children comprise a growing population of American youth, and failing to address the low levels of physical activity among this group could have important long-term health consequences as this population transitions into adolescence and adulthood,” added lead author, Mackenzie Brewer.
The study, titled “Neighborhood Context and Immigrant Children’s Physical Activity,” evaluated a number of other established studies, including data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, which surveyed 17,510 participants with kindergarteners on issues affecting child development between 1998 and 1999.
This is not the first time evidence of inactivity has been noted among immigrant children. In 2008, a study now listed in the National Library of Medicine, there were high levels of physical inactivity among immigrant children, but the behaviors varied significantly by immigrant subgroup.
“For example, 22.5 percent of immigrant Hispanic children were physically inactive compared with 9.5 percent of U.S.-born non-Hispanic white children with U.S.-born parents,” wrote researchers at the time. “Approximately 67 percent of immigrant Hispanic children did not participate in sports compared with 30.2 percent of native Asian children. Overall, immigrant children were significantly more likely to be physically inactive and less likely to participate in sports than native children; they were, however, less likely to watch television 3 or more hours per day than native children, although the nativity gap narrowed with increasing acculturation levels.”
Study authors added, compared with native non-Hispanic white children, the adjusted odds of physical inactivity and lack of sports participation were both 2 times higher for immigrant Hispanic children with foreign-born parents, and the odds of television watching were 1.5 and 2.3 times higher for native Hispanic and non-Hispanic black children, respectively.
Some experts theorize the disparity may have to do with a lack of awareness of the importance of physical activity in children, but other factors may come into play. Immigrant families may live in more dangerous neighborhoods where it is not desirable for children to be outside without supervision, and immigrant parents often work long hours and are unable to attend sporting events or drive children to after school activities.
Brewer and her team were unable to link the disparity to socioeconomic or neighborhood factors, however, suggesting there is another reason why immigrant children are more inactive compared to native children.