THE ROLE OF SOCIAL ECOLOGICAL FACTORS IN SHAPING LEISURE TIME PHYSICAL ACTIVITY AND MENTAL HEALTH AMONG ASIAN IMMIGRANTS IN THE UNITED STATES

Open Access
Author:
Kim, Jaehyun
Graduate Program:
Recreation and Parks
Degree:
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Dissertation
Date of Defense:
June 01, 2018
Committee Members:
  • Andrew Justin Mowen, Dissertation Advisor
  • Andrew Justin Mowen, Committee Chair
  • Alan R Graefe, Committee Member
  • Birgitta L. Baker, Committee Member
  • Melissa Jean Bopp, Outside Member
Keywords:
  • Leisure time physical activity
  • Mental health
  • Asian immigrants
  • Social ecological factors
Abstract:
During the exposure to new culture, immigrants often face cultural changes accompanying numerous life changes and challenges (Kim, Suh, Kim, & Gopalan, 2012). Such challenging situations cause increased levels of stress, which negatively affect mental health among immigrants (Chung & Epstein, 2014). To date, a number of studies have used a social ecological model to determine correlates of physical activity and mental health. However, one of the gaps in literature is examining socio-cultural environments (e.g., acculturation, acculturative stress) along with intrapersonal, socio-cultural, and physical environmental, and policy-related factors in relation to both physical activity and health outcomes. Therefore, this dissertation sought to examine the associations of social ecological factors (i.e., intrapersonal, socio-cultural and physical environmental factors, and policies) with leisure time physical activity (LTPA) and mental health among Asian immigrants living in the United States. An on-line survey was administered through Qualtrics, and cross-sectional data were collected from 511 East Asian immigrants living permanently in the United States (i.e., Chinese, Japanese, and Korean immigrants). Participants reported on demographics, LTPA self-efficacy, acculturation, acculturative stress, social cohesion, perceived accessibility, quality, and safety of LTPA sites, neighborhood quality, and support for PA-related policies. All analyses were conducted by using AMOS (version 22.0) and SPSS (version 18.0). SPSS software was used to generate descriptive statistics and to measure internal consistency for observed variables. By using maximum likelihood parameter estimation with AMOS, path analyses were conducted to test social ecological models of LTPA and of mental health among Asian immigrants. A Sobel mediation test (1982) was also conducted for measuring indirect effects in the proposed models. Study results indicated that Asian immigrants who perceived their neighborhood favorably were less likely to report acculturative stress, which in turn led to better mental health status. This finding highlights that policy makers and public health professionals should develop culturally sensitive intervention programs to promote mental health among Asian immigrants. Such a consideration of the socio-cultural context of Asian immigrants in developing health programs will help Asian immigrants cope more effectively with acculturative stress (e.g., language barriers, perceived discrimination) and thus improve mental health. Results also indicated that there are significant pathways where higher levels of support for PA-related policies and accessibility of LTPA sites led to higher levels of self-efficacy for LTPA, which then led to an increase in LTPA, and, ultimately, better mental health. In particular, the partial mediation effect on LTPA indicated that those who believed that PA-related policies would promote their LTPA tended to possess confidence in adhering to LTPA in the face of difficulties and thus, participate in LTPA more frequently. This finding suggests that policy makers and public health professionals may need to engage community residents in the process of establishing policies or developing interventions for PA promotion. Moreover, this study found that an increase in accessibility of LTPA-related sites encourages people to have higher levels of LTPA self-efficacy, which in turn led to higher levels of LTPA. This finding demonstrates a critical need for public infrastructural investments to improve accessibility of LTPA-related facilities and resources and interventions designed for promoting LTPA self-efficacy. Given that LTPA is directly associated with mental health, this information has important implications for physical activity and mental health interventions. The most important finding from this study is that socio-cultural factors (i.e., acculturation and acculturative stress) did play a significant mediating or direct role in social ecological models of LTPA and mental health among Asian immigrants. That is, this study revealed that the effects of policy-related and physical environmental factors on LTPA and mental health were fully mediated by acculturation and acculturative stress. Given this, it is important for practitioners to develop interventions that could help facilitate Asian immigrants' acculturation to U.S. culture and reduce or prevent stress brought on by immigration to the United States. Implications of these findings, as well as directions for future research were further discussed.