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Disparities/Minority Health

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Differences in education and health status account for virtually all racial/ethnic differences in leisure-time physical activity

Leisure-time physical activity (LTPA) is associated with a lower risk for coronary heart disease and cancer and better cardiorespiratory fitness. The relationship between work-related physical activity (WRPA), heavy household chores and strenuous job activities and health outcomes is less clear. A recent study that examined differences in LTPA, WRPA, and total physical activity (TPA) found that differences in educational attainment and health status accounted for virtually all of the racial and ethnic differences in LTPA. In addition, after accounting for WRPA, total physical activity was similar across racial, ethnic, and education subgroups.

Blacks, Hispanics, and people with lower educational attainment spent less time in leisure time activities than whites and people with higher educational attainment. In contrast, work-related physical activity was lowest for whites and more educated individuals. After accounting for several factors, education was a far more important determinant of LTPA and WRPA than race/ethnicity. Furthermore, after adjusting for differences in overall health and physical functioning, mean total physical activity scores were similar across racial/ethnic and education categories.

These findings are based on an analysis of data from the 1992 Health and Retirement Study of a nationally representative group of 9,621 community-dwelling adults aged 51-61. Xiaoxing Z. He, M.D., M.P.H., and David W. Baker, M.D., M.P.H., of Northwestern University, examined physical activity scores for LTPA, WRPA, and TPA based on self-reported frequency of light or vigorous recreational activities, heavy household chores, and strenuous job-related physical activities. Their work was supported in part by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (HS10283).

More details are in "Differences in leisure-time, household, and work-related physical activity by race, ethnicity, and education," by Drs. He and Baker, in the March 2005 Journal of General Internal Medicine 20, pp. 259-266, 2005.

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