Is Stress Related to Physical Activity Levels in Latinx Youth?

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Is Stress Related to Physical Activity Levels in Latinx Youth?

Dec. 23, 2021

member hub diversity newsletterLatinx youth are not meeting the U.S. Physical Activity Guidelines (USPAG) [1 – 2] and when compared to other racial/ethnic background peers are at higher risk of being overweight or obese [3 – 4]. Moreover, when compared to non-Latinx whites, Latinx youth have greater exposure to socio-environmental stressors such as parental [5 – 6] and crime-related stress [7] which may partially explain low physical activity (PA) levels and high obesity risk. Parental stressors can consist of occupational/economic, marital, and immigration stress [5]. Crime-related stress refers to exposure to violence or other harmful or dangerous behaviors [7]. Although literature about PA, weight status, and stress among Latinx youth is limited, some cross-sectional studies using quantitative [5, 7] methods have shown that stress is related to PA levels in this population. 

For instance, a study examined the effect of parental stress on PA in a sample of 280 overweight Latinx youth living in Florida (Mage=13.01 ±.83, 52% female, MBMI=28.06 ±.6.07) [5]. U.S-born Latinx youth constituted 64% of the sample. Physical activity was assessed using the World Health Organization's Global Physical Activity questionnaire, parental stress was assessed using the Hispanic stress inventory for immigrants, and family communication was measured using the Family Relations Scale. The study found that higher parental stress levels were related to lower moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) levels in youth, after controlling for adolescent’s age, BMI, parent’s age, marital status, parents education level, household income, and years living in the U.S. Additional, findings from the study included family communication as a moderating factor of parental stress and MVPA levels, such that, low levels of family communication exacerbated the negative effect of parental stress on adolescent MVPA. Interestingly, although the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System indicates that Latinx boys are more likely to meet the USPAG than Latinx girls, negative associations of parental stress on MVPA were stronger in boys than girls.

Similarly, another study evaluated the relationship between fear of crime and PA and tested relationships between PA, participation in outdoor activities, and crime fear [7]. Authors recruited 300 male and female Latinx adolescents living in Chicago and asked them to complete two questionnaires which measured crime fear and outdoor recreational activities. In the crime fear questionnaire, participants responded to eight statements, such as “I worry about being hurt by gangs in the neighborhood”, using a 3-points Likert scale (not true at all, sometimes true, or mostly true). Likewise, adolescents reported outdoor recreational activities using a scale, were they choose from “never,” “once a month or less,” “twice a month,” or “once a week or more” for seven different outdoors tasks. A negative correlation (r= -.0148, p < .01) was reported between fear of crime and PA, as the more fear of crime the less PA participation for these adolescents. Also it was reported that fear of crime could be associated to less participation in outdoor recreational activities (r= -.0121, p < .05). Therefore, additional factors limiting PA participation in Latinx youth could be related to crime-related stressors.  

Both studies support that Latinx youth PA levels are related to socio-environmental stressors, which are factors that sometimes are ignored when developing interventions to promote PA. When designing PA programs and interventions for Latinx youth, socio-environmental stressors such as parental stress and crime-related stress should be considered. Some recommendations when designing interventions for Latinx youth are:

  • Including family in programming through intergenerational interventions
  • Targeting parental stress and family communication through partnerships with psychologists, social workers, or community leaders to support MVPA.
  • Promoting programs in Spanish in community acceptable and accessible spaces
  • Including images of family in recruitment flyers. 
  • Understanding how youth navigate their communities through focus-group interviews prior to developing a PA intervention.
  • Assessing perceived safety and empowering youth to advocate for environmental and policy changes that can lead to active environments. 
  • Employing mixed-methodology studies when exploring PA behaviors within the Latinx community.

This newsletter is sponsored by the ACSM Diversity Advancement Network.


Authors: Soto, Yuliana, M.S., Muñoz, Mario A., Ph.D., FACSM & Santiago-Rodriguez, Maria-Enid, Ph.D., ACSM-RCEP

Acknowledgments: A special thanks to Aguiñaga, Susan, Ph.D. for her time and effort on revising this newsletter.


1.Iannotti RJ, Wang J. Trends in physical activity, sedentary behavior, diet, and BMI among US adolescents, 2001–2009. Pediatrics. 2013; 132(4):606–614. PubMed ID: 24043281 doi:10.1542/peds.2013- 1488

2. Evenson, K. R. et al. Physical Activity and Sedentary Behavior among US Hispanic/Latino Youth. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise 1–45 (2018) doi:10.1249/mss.0000000000001871.

3. Skinner AC, Ravanbakht SN, Skelton JA, Perrin EM, Armstrong SC. Prevalence of obesity and severe obesity in US children, 1999–2016. Pediatrics. 2018;141(3):e20173459. doi:10.1542/peds.2017-3459

4. Stang, J. & Bonilla, Z. Factors Affecting Nutrition and Physical Activity Behaviors of Hispanic Families With Young Children: Implications for Obesity Policies and Programs. J Nutr Educ Behav 50, 959–967 (2018). 

5. Kobayashi, M. A., Lee, T. K., Leite, R. O., Esquives, B. N., Prado, G., Messiah, S. E., & George, S. M. S. (2019). The effects of parental stress on physical activity among overweight and obese Hispanic adolescents: Moderating role of family communication and gender. Journal of Physical Activity and Health, 16(11), 952–961.

6. Isasi, C. R., Hua, S., Jung, M., Carnethon, M. R., Perreira, K., Vidot, D. C., ... & Gallo, L. C. (2017). The association of parental/caregiver chronic stress with youth obesity: findings from the study of Latino youth and the Hispanic community health study/study of Latinos sociocultural ancillary study. Childhood obesity, 13(4), 251-258.

7. Shinew, K. J., Stodolska, M., Roman, C. G., & Yahner, J. (2013). Crime, physical activity and outdoor recreation among Latino adolescents in Chicago. Preventive medicine, 57(5), 541-544.