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Move to Improve: Why minority health and fitness programs could use a makeover.

THAT EATING BETTER and exercising more can reduce one’s risk of obesity, diabetes and heart disease is hardly news: scientists, doctors, public-health agencies and countless others have been hammering away at this message for years.

Yet incidence rates of all three conditions remain distressingly high, particularly among minorities. Data from the Centers for Disease Control indicate that African-American and Mexican-American populations are much more likely than whites to be obese and, at least partly in consequence, are twice as likely to have diabetes. These groups also “bear a disproportionate burden of death and disability” from cardiovascular disease, the CDC says.

So why aren’t “eat and exercise your way to better health” programs gaining traction among minorities? Perhaps, suggests a prominent MU nursing researcher, a lack of culturally relevant communications may be the culprit.

Vicki Conn, associate dean for research and Potter-Brinton Professor in the MU Sinclair School of Nursing, last year teamed up with three MU colleagues to conduct an analysis of more than 100 studies that tested exercise interventions in some 21,000 minority participants.These “supervised-exercise studies” typically involved short-term programs — usually around 12 weeks — with weekly exercise sessions.

“In reviewing the studies, we were surprised at how infrequently the researchers culturally tailored the motivational interventions,“ says Conn. “For example, in the majority of interventions for African Americans, there is no evidence that African Americans helped design the study, recruit participants or deliver the programs. This reveals a challenge in this area of science — although many researchers are concerned about increasing exercise in minority populations, interventions are not being culturally tailored to these populations.”

Participants in supervised exercise interventions experienced modest improvements in fitness. These effects, Conn says, could be augmented with more frequent and varied exercise sessions and the use of culturally relevant approaches. Such a rethinking, she concluded in the study, might go a long way toward identifying “characteristics of interventions associated with better health outcomes and physical activity behavior change” in those who need them most.

Conn’s study was published in the February issue of the Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved. It was funded by a grant of more than $1 million from the National Institutes of Health.

It’s not the shoes: Few exercise programs are designed to motivate minorities, a circumstance that may be making health- and fitness-related interventions less effective. Photo by istockphoto.com.

IT’S NOT THE SHOES: Few exercise programs are designed to motivate minorities, a circumstance that may be making health- and fitness-related interventions less effective.
Photo by istockphoto.com.

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