January 9, 2022

Adiposity, or obesity, is a recognized challenge to public health in the United States, and it disproportionately affects different racial and ethnic groups. In 2018, 45% of U.S. Hispanic/Latinos and 50% of non-Hispanic Black people were obese versus 33% of non-Hispanic white people and 17% of non-Hispanic Asians.

In a new study, researchers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill examined relationships between number and speed of steps per day — measured by a wearable accelerometer or “fitness tracker” — and six-year changes in obesity among participants in the Hispanic Community Health Study/Study of Latinos (HCHS/SOL).

In a cohort of 16,415 self-identified Hispanic/Latino people ages 18-74 years old, the researchers found that lower walking speeds and fewer steps/day were associated with higher obesity at the start of the study period.

Over six years, however, participants with the slowest peak 30-minute speed and fewest minutes spent in bouts of purposeful steps and faster ambulation had lower odds of gaining weight, compared to those with the fastest peak speed and most time spent in bouts of more purposeful movement.

Dr. Samantha Schilsky

Dr. Samantha Schilsky

“The six-year changes in adiposity results were unexpected. Indeed, individuals who spent more time at higher stepping cadences had greater weight gain,” said lead author Samantha Schilsky, PhD, an alum of the epidemiology department at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health (now an epidemiologist at Aetion). “We had several thoughts regarding why we found this association, including uneven decline in step-metrics over time, but our understanding was limited by the available HCHS/SOL data set.”

Co-authors from the Gillings School are Professor Kelly R. Evenson, PhD, Professor Wayne D. Rosamond, PhD, W.R. Kenan, Jr. Distinguished Professor Gerardo Heiss, PhD, and Postdoctoral Research Fellow Carmen Cuthbertson, PhD, in the Department of Epidemiology; AICR/WCRF Distinguished Professor June Stevens, PhD, in the Departments of Epidemiology and Nutrition; and Associate Professor Daniela Sotres-Alvarez, DrPH, Cary C. Boshamer Distinguished Professor Jianwen Cai, PhD, and alum Nicole Butera, PhD (now an assistant professor at The George Washington University), all with the Department of Biostatistics.

The paper, titled, “The association of Step-based metrics and adiposity in the Hispanic community Health Study/Study of Latinos,” was published online December 1, 2021.

“The inverse associations found between step volume/speed and obesity measures are promising findings in regard to developing step-based recommendations and interventions to address obesity in U.S. Hispanic/Latinos,” Schilsky said. “More research is merited: Step-based metrics are easy to translate into public health guidance, giving them high utility for informing interventions, recommendations and self-monitoring strategies.”

Contact the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health communications team at sphcomm@unc.edu.

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