Physical Activity, Overweight and Obesity Among Latino Youth

Insufficient physical activity and excessive sedentary behavior contribute significantly to the obesity epidemic among Latino youth. Latino youth are more likely to be overweight or obese than their White peers.

National studies show that Mexican-American children and teens have higher physical activity levels—but also higher rates of obesity—than White youth. National data also show that the vast majority of U.S. teenagers fail to meet the recommended one hour per day of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity. Studies of Latino youth support this finding, indicating that physical activity levels decrease markedly with increasing age. Additionally, physical activity is consistently lower among Latino girls than boys.

Preventing obesity among Latino youth will require a sizeable decrease in energy intake and/or a reciprocal increase in physical activity. This brief summarizes research that examines environmental, socioeconomic and cultural factors related to physical activity and/or obesity among Latino youth to identify solutions for reversing the obesity epidemic.

Key Findings:

  • Latino parents report more barriers to their children's physical activity than do White parents.
  • Latino children living in lower-income communities and unsafe neighborhoods are more likely to be physically inactive, overweight and/or obese.
  • Immigrant Latino children are more likely to be physically inactive compared to both native Whites and native Latinos.
  • Latino acculturation to the U.S. is significantly associated with a lower frequency of physical activity and more time spent watching television.
  • Latino youth spend more time using media (watching television, using a computer, playing video games) and fewer limitations are set by parents on use of media compared with White or Black parents.

The determinants of overweight and obesity among Latino youth are multifactorial. To effectively address this epidemic, additional research is needed to better discern the link between physical activity, overweight and obesity among Latino youth, including the influence of socioeconomic status, behaviors, and the social and cultural environments.