Background

Previous studies have reported disparities in sedentary behavior and its associations with adverse health outcomes. However, the cognitive determinants of leisure time activity habits, and whether they differ across racial/ethnic groups, are not well understood. The purpose of this study was to examine differences in activity preferences in a diverse cohort of children ages 5-17 years.

Methods

We administered a novel behavioral task, the Activity Preference Assessment (APA), to measure explicit and implicit preferences for common leisure time physical and sedentary activities. Explicit liking and wanting were assessed with visual analog scales (VAS; 0 to 100), while implicit preference was assessed with a forced-choice procedure (i.e., “Would you rather?” game). Positive bias scores indicate an implicit preference towards sedentary activities (range of possible scores = -100 to +100). We compared APA outcomes between non-Hispanic White children (n=50) and racial/ethnic minority children (n=56; 41 Black, 12 Hispanic White, 3 Biracial) using independent samples t-tests.

Results

Explicit liking and wanting for physical and sedentary activities were moderate (55-70) and did not differ between groups (all p > 0.11). Two-thirds of kids had an implicit preference for sedentary activities (mean ± SD = 8 ± 43). However, bias scores were significantly higher for racial/ethnic minority children (14 ± 35) compared to non-Hispanic White children (-2 ± 28) (t = 2.06, p = 0.04). Similarly, 70% of racial/ethnic minority children had a sedentary preference, compared to 56% of non-Hispanic White children.

Conclusions

When given the choice between sedentary and physical activities, children chose sedentary activities more often and more readily. Racial/ethnic group differences suggest that implicit preference from the APA is a potential cognitive contributor to previously reported disparities in habitual sedentary time, and may represent a modifiable target for future interventions in minority children.