Purpose Obesity and lack of fitness are national health “emergencies” especially among our racial/ethnic minority youth. After-school programs may be one venue to address these health issues. Therefore, this study evaluated the association between after-school program participation and physical and sedentary activity, and to describe racial/ethnic differences in the level of after-school program participation.
Methods 691 fifth grade students attending 12 schools in Vallejo, CA (an ethnically diverse community in CA) were given a survey for their parent/guardian to fill out and to mail back in a self-addressed stamped envelope. Small incentives were provided to classes with the highest response rate. The 29-question survey asked parents about their child's sedentary activities such as television watching (hours/day), and current participation in after-school programs. If they did not participate, parents were asked to give the reasons for non-participation: “too expensive”, “no transportation”, “don't know of any”, “don't need to”, or “other”.
Results There were 415 respondents (60% response rate). Participants' race/ethnicity reflected that of the overall school district with African-American 22%, American-Indian 2%, Asian 5%, Filipino 25%, Latino/a 20%, Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander 2%, White 18%, and Multi-ethnic/Other 6%. Only 20% of the 5th graders currently participated in some after-school program; however, those who participated, watched significantly less television than children who did not participate (2.5 hrs/day vs. 2.2 hrs. respectively, p=0.03). After-school participation did not differ by race/ethnicity. Barriers to after-school participation included: cost (n=39), not knowing of any program (n=32) and lack of transportation (n=29).
Conclusions This is one of the first studies to examine after-school program participation of an ethnically diverse population of fifth graders. This study found that participation in after school programs is associated with fewer hours spent watching television (a risk factor for childhood overweight/obesity); yet at the same time, fewer than 20% of students participate in after school activities. Although this study did not find significant ethnic differences in after school program participation, more research is needed to examine ethnic differences in after school participation while also examining factors such as socio-economic status and language spoken at home. It would also be important to examine these differences across multiple ages/grades as after-school participation has been shown to decrease as children age.
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