Native American populations have higher obesity and diabetes rates overall in the U.S. Percentages of obesity among Native American children were 11-25% higher than the national average. Among Navajo, cultural lifestyles changes have led to less physical activity and obesity problems with youth more disassociated from traditional Navajo living, culture, beliefs, language and religion. They were at highest risk for Type II diabetes among ethnic groups due to less physically activity, increased weight gain and obesity.
This study had dual purposes: Part one of this study was to examined the perceptions of physical activity, physical education and living healthy lifestyles of Navajo adolescents, physical educators, a Navajo culture teacher, a Diné studies teacher and a community member. Part two of this study examined the physical activity patterns of Navajo adolescent students. To gain their perspectives, eight Navajo students (9-12 grades), two physical educators, two classroom teachers and one community member were recruited and interviewed individually for 60-minutes. Secondly, pedometers were used to assess the students’ physical activity levels during the school day and 24-hour increments.
Results of the part one study indicated important aspects of physical activity by Navajo adolescents, physical education teachers, classroom teachers and a community member were cultural identity, family involvement, and structure of family/extended family. Navajo respondents participated in traditional form of running in the morning, a practice performed by parents and/or extended family. Physical activity was described as active involvement of the body, movement, physical fitness, and sport related interests. Stakeholders described physical activity and healthy living as culturally driven beliefs and learning based on Navajo way of life.
Findings of part two study indicated that boys were significantly more physically active on weekday than girls t(32)=2.04, p=<.05. Weekday step counts for boys indicated (M=11,078, SD= 4,399) and for girls (M=7,567, SD=5,613). Girls were significantly more active on weekend t(27)=2.30,p=.03. Weekend step counts indicated boys and girls accumulated (M=6493, SD=5650) and (M=7589, SD=5614) steps. Physical education step counts showed minimal differences between boys (M=2203, SD=918) and girls (M=1939, SD=889) step counts. Overall results indicate that Navajo adolescents did not meet daily physical activity recommendations.