Adapting Physical Activity Interventions to Prevent Obesity in Culturally Diverse Populations

According to this commentary on two literature reviews of obesity in culturally diverse populations, interventions need to go beyond merely promoting positive attitudes and education. Interventions need to be systemic, multilevel and culturally adapted to the communities to be effective; and also should be designed to provide high-quality data on obesity and the success of particular interventions in these communities.

Two-thirds of U.S. adults are overweight or obese, and rates are significantly higher still among African-Americans, Native Americans and Latinos. Commentator Terry L. Bazzarre recommends attention to two systematic reviews of interventions intended to promote physical activity among at-risk groups: one by Whitt-Glover and Kumanyika, on interventions in African-American populations, and one by Teufel-Shone and others, focusing on Native Americans. Until recently, Mr. Bazzarre was a senior program officer at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and oversaw these literature reviews and the 2003 “Equal Rights to Health” meeting where the initial findings of these reviews were presented.

According to Bazzarre, the reviews demonstrate:

  • There have been relatively few high-quality studies of interventions within these populations most at-risk for obesity.
  • Interventions designed to address obesity have not been widely translated into rigorous, “real-world” practices in these communities.
  • Strong community-based research partnerships, combining cultural adaptability with high-quality research and evaluation capacity, need greater technical assistance and greater resources.

Bazzarre refers to several specific RWJF-funded initiatives, including the National Collaborative on Childhood Obesity Research, as well as community-based participatory research programs, that are working to identify policy and environmental solutions to obesity, and create and sustain effective physical activity interventions in under-served populations at greatest risk for obesity.