Health & Fitness

Latino kids follow parents' lead when it comes to exercising (or not)

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Compared with other ethnic groups, Hispanic adults spend very little time engaging in leisure time activity. And their lack of playtime may be contributing to their kids' sedentary habits--and excess weight, says new research.

The authors of the study, published this week in the journal Pediatrics, note that compared with non-Hispanic white kids, Hispanic kids between age 6 and 17 are much more likely to be physically inactive: 22.5% of immigrant Hispanic children, 17.2% of U.S.-born Hispanic kids with immigrant parents, and 14.5% of U.S.-born Hispanic kids with a single immigrant parent are considered sedentary. Among their non-Hispanic white peers, 9.5% are considered inactive.

Maybe those habits of inactivity start early, and at home, surmised a group of researchers at Vanderbilt Children's Hospital in Nashville. They got 80 Hispanic parents--most of them mothers and first-generation Mexican immigrants--and 85 of their preschool-aged children to wear a small device that measured how much time each spent engaging in moderate-to-vigorous physical activity.

The degree of sedentariness the researchers recorded was extreme: "For parents, the near-perfect lack of vigorous activity is essentially a constant," the authors wrote. And for the most part, the children's activity levels, while a little higher, tracked directly with that of their parents. Even scarier, they noted, was that many of these inactive children--the girls in particular--would likely follow an established pattern for Hispanics, and become even more inactive as they progressed to adolescence and adulthood.

In the rare instances when parents did engage in some mild-to-moderate physical activity, their children were more likely to show a jump in physical activity levels.

Roughly three-in-10 Mexican American children between 2 and 5 in the United States are overweight or obese--higher than the general population's rate of 24.5%. "These striking figures should not be taken lightly," the authors wrote. "Overweight and obese status established by preschool has been found to persist into adolescence and adulthood."

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