Systematic Review of Interventions to Increase Physical Activity and Physical Fitness in African-Americans

Americans on average do not get the recommended amount of physical activity, but levels of fitness and activity are even lower among African Americans than for the general population. This review examined 43 studies reporting on interventions that successfully increased physical activity among African-American subjects. The studies were published between 1985 and 2006; 29 regarded adults and 14 regarded children. The authors summarize the setting, interventions, objectives, outcomes and results, and level of cultural adaptation for each of the studies.

This literature review of interventions that increased physical activity among African-American subjects found that differences in the methodologies of the studies limited the ability to make comparisons among them.

The authors also tested their hypotheses about what characteristics of the studies’ designs made a study more effective at identifying the factors that made an intervention more successful. In other words, they sought to determine how best to study whether an intervention actually succeeds at increasing fitness among African-Americans.

Key findings:

  • Studies that focused only on physical activity were not superior to studies that focused on multiple behaviors.
  • The authors are uncertain about the influence of setting clear fitness goals for the subjects of a study, even though goal setting is often noted as a key factor in successful behavior change.
  • Cultural adaptations also may not matter; only three of the studies compared the use of cultural adaptations in programs with the use of fewer or no such adaptations. And none of those studies showed a statistically significant difference between the two approaches.
  • Studies employing some form of structured exercise program seemed to increase their subjects’ physical activity in the period immediately after the study.

The authors recommend additional studies of fitness interventions in which the studies are larger and longer, and use more sophisticated methodology, such as randomized controlled trials and objective measures of physical activity.