Perspectives of WIC Staff Regarding Physical Activity Levels and Behaviors of Latino Preschool Children


  • Ana Cristina Lindsay Exercise and Health Sciences Department, College of Nursing and Health Sciences, University of Massachusetts Boston
  • Mary Greaney Department of Kinesiology, College of Human Sciences and Services, University of Rhode Island
  • Judith A. Salkeld Department of Nutrition, Harvard School of Public Health
  • Jennifer Walsh Florida Family Nutrition Program, University of Florida



Physical activity, sedentary behaviors, Latino, children, WIC program


Background: Racial and ethnic disparities in physical activity (PA) are evident, with non-Hispanic Black and Mexican American children engaging in less vigorous activity than non-Hispanic White children. Collaborating with public health programs serving at-risk populations, such as the WIC program may be an effective way to promote the development of healthful PA behaviors among low-income preschool children and families. This paper explores WIC staff perceptions, attitudes, barriers, and facilitators related to PA levels and behaviors among low-income Latino preschool children and families, as well as the role the WIC program may play in promoting PA among low-income populations.

Methods: A qualitative study was conducted with a sample of WIC staff in the State of Rhode Island (RI), Northeast United States. Individual, semi-structured interviews were carried out with 21 WIC staff working directly with Latino clients enrolled in the WIC program. Thematic content analysis was used.

Results: The majority of WIC staff reported their Latino clients facing many barriers that limit their ability to be physically active, including busy and multiple shift schedules, lack of access to safe outdoor spaces, financial constraints to attending programs and recreational facilities, lack of transportation getting to safe outdoor spaces and facilities, etc. WIC staff identified several ways that the WIC program could increase the promotion PA among Latino families including partnering with local organizations such as the YMCA, Boys and Girls Club to provide increased access and opportunities for PA among low-income, Latino families.

Conclusions: Study findings add to the existing literature suggesting that the WIC program is an important venue for educating low-income, Latino children and families about the importance of establishing early healthy PA habits within the context of overall health and development. Findings also highlight the need for a continuing effort to integrate the promotion of PA as part of the WIC program. In addition, findings highlight WIC staff desire for additional training and resources in promotion of PA.


[1] Crawford PB, Gosliner W, Strode P, et al. Walking the talk: Fit WIC wellness programs improve self-efficacy in pediatric obesity prevention counseling. Am J Public Health 2004; 94: 1480-5.
[2] Davison KK, Jago R. Change in parent and peer support across ages 9 to 15 years and adolescent girls’ physical activity. Med Sci Sports Exerc 2009; 41: 1816-25.
[3] Eyler AA, Matson-Koffman D, Young DR, et al. Quantitative study of correlates of physical activity in women from diverse racial/ethnic groups: Women’s Cardiovascular Health Network Project: summary and conclusions. Am J Prev Med 2003; 25(Suppl 1): 93-103.
[4] Fakhouri TH, Hughes JP, Brody DJ, Kit BK, Ogden CL. Physical activity and screen-time viewing among elementary school-aged children in the United States from 2009 to 2010. JAMA Pediatr 2013; 167: 223-9.
[5] Fitzgibbon ML, Stolley MR, Schiffer LA, Van Horn L, Kauferchristoffel K, Dyer A. Hip-hop to Health for Latino preschool children. Obesity 2006; 14: 1616-25.
[6] Brown WH, Pfeiffer KA, McIver KL, Dowda M, Addy CL, Pate RR. Social and environmental factors associated with preschoolers’ non-sedentary physical activity. Child Dev 2009; 80: 45-58.
[7] Brownson RC, Boehmer TK, Luke DA. Declining rates of physical activity in the United States: what are the contributors? Annu Rev Public Health 2005; 26: 421-43.
[8] Centers for Disease Control. How much physical activity do children need? guidelines/children.html. Accessed September 6, 2011.
[9] Biddle SJ, Pearson, N, Ross GM, Braithwaite R. Tracking of sedentary behaviours of young people: a systematic review. Prev Med 2010; 51: 345-51.
[10] Hodges EA, Smith C, Tidwell S, Berry D. Promoting physical activity in preschoolers to prevent obesity: a review of the literature. J Pediatr Nurs 2013; 28: 3-19.
[11] Pratt M, Epping JN, Dietz WH. Putting physical activity into public health: a historical perspective from the CDC. Prev Med 2009; 49: 301-2.
[12] National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE), an association of the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance, Active Start: A Statement of Physical Activity Guidelines for Children Birth to Five Years (Reston, VA: NASPE, 2002), 5–11. Visit
[13] Ramirez AG, Chalela P, Gallion KJ, Green LW, Ottoson J. Salud America! Developing a National Latino Childhood Obesity Research Agenda. Health Educ Behav 2011; 38: 251-60.
[14] Ruiz R, Gesell SB, Buchowski MS, Lambert W, Barkin SL. The relationship between Hispanic parents and their preschool-aged children’s physical activity. Pediatrics 2011; 127: 888-95.
[15] Singh GK, Yu SM, Kogan MD. Health, chronic conditions, and behavioral risk disparities among U.S. immigrant children and adolescents. Public Health Rep 2013; 128: 463-79.
[16] Anderson RE, Crespo CJ, Bartlett SJ, Cheskin LJ, Pratt M. Relationship of physical activity and television watching with body weight and level of fatness among children: results from the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. JAMA 1998; 279: 938-42.
[17] Bautista L, Reinenger B, Gray JL, Barroso CS, McCormick JB. Perceived barriers to exercise in Hispanic adults by level of activity. J Phys Act Health 2011; 8: 916-25.
[18] Ennis S, Rios-Vargas M, Albert N: The Hispanic Population: 1020 Census Briefs. Issued 5/2011. Available at htpp:// Accessed August 2014.
[19] McGarvey EL, Collie KR, Fraser G, Shufflebarger C, Lloyd B, Oliver NM. Using focus group results to inform preschool childhood obesity prevention programming. Ethn Health 2006; 11: 265-85.
[20] Miles M, Huberman A. Qualitative Data Analysis: An Expanded Sourcebook. In: Sage Publications. 2nd ed. Thousand Oaks, CA 1994.
[21] Moore LL, Nguyen US, Rothman KJ, Cupples LA, Ellison RC. Preschool physical activity level and change in body fatness in young children: The Framingham Children’s Study. Am J Epidemiol 1995; 142: 982-8.
[22] McLeroy KR, Bibeau D, Steckler A, Glanz K. An ecological perspective on health promotion programs. Health Educ Q 1998; 15: 351-77.
[23] Lindsay AC, Sussner KM, Greaney MI, Peterson KE. Influence of social context on eating, physical activity and sedentary behaviors of Latina mothers and their preschool-age children. Health Educ Behav 2009; 36: 81-96.
[24] Lindsay AC, Sussner KM, Greaney MI, Peterson KE. Latina mothers’ beliefs and practices related to weight status, feeding, and the development of pediatric overweight. Public Health Nurs 2011; 28: 107-18.
[25] Maxwell JA. Qualitative research design: an interactive approach. In: Sage Publications Applied Social Science Methods Series. Vol 41. Thousand Oaks, CA 2005; 214-253.
[26] Sallis JF, Glanz K. The role of built environments in physical activity, eating, and obesity in childhood. Fut Child 2006; 16: 89-108.
[27] Olivera N, Kellam SF, Menefee K, Lee J, Smith DW. Physical activity in Latino children: research and its implications. Journal of Applied Research on Children: Informing Policy for Children at Risk 2010; 1(1).
[28] Davison KK, Edmunds LS, Wyker BA, Young LM, Sarfoh VS, Sekhobo JP. Feasibility of increasing childhood outdoor play and decreasing television viewing through a family-based intervention in WIC, New York State, 2007-2008. Prev Chronic Dis 2011; 8: A54.
[29] Davison KK, Cutting TM, Birch LL. Parents’ activity-related parenting practices predict girls’ physical activity. Med Sci Sports Exerc 2003; 35: 1589-95.
[30] Klesges RC, Stein RJ, Eck LH, Isbell TR, Klesges LM. Parental influence on food selection in young children and its relationships to childhood obesity. Am J Clin Nutr 1991; 53: 859-64.
[31] Sekhobo JP, Egglefield K, Edmunds LS, Shackman G. Evidence of the adoption and implementation of a statwide childhood obesity prevention initiative in New York State WIC Program: the NY Fit WIC process evaluation. Health Educ Res 2012; 27: 281-91.
[32] Sorenson G, Emmons K, Hunt MK, et al. Model for incorporating social context in health behavior interventions: applications for cancer prevention for working-class, multiethnic populations. Prev Med 2003; 37: 188-97.
[33] Lindsay AC, Sussner KM, Pfeiffer EM, Greaney ML, Wang M, Peterson KE. Social-cultural, Organizational and Community Influences on Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviors of Latina Mothers’ and Their Preschool-Aged Children enrolled in the WIC Program: A qualitative study. Int J Child Health Nutr 2014; 3: 27-40.






General Articles