Purpose: To examine the prevalence of unhealthy behaviors among a cohort of Vietnamese adolescents in California; to examine the relationship between these behaviors and school-related variables (school performance, educational risk behaviors, higher-education aspirations, and participation in extracurricular activities); and to assess the differences that may exist between males and females with regard to these factors.
Methods: We conducted telephone interviews with 783 Vietnamese adolescents, aged 12-17 years, recruited through telephone listings from four California counties where large Vietnamese populations reside: San Francisco, Santa Clara, Los Angeles, and Orange. Of the 783 completed interviews, 60.8% were conducted in English and 39.2% in Vietnamese. The main outcome measure is a health risk behavior scale that includes adolescents' reports of ever smoking a cigarette, sedentary vs. active lifestyle, consumption of fruits and vegetables, consumption of foods high in fat, ever drinking alcohol, and ever engaging in sexual behavior. Multiple regression analyses were employed to estimate the association among the demographic variables, acculturation, school performance, aspirations, extracurricular activities, and the overall health risk.
Results: Females were significantly more sedentary than males. Over one-quarter (29%) of the females reported not having participated in vigorous physical activity on 3 or more days per week, compared with just 18% of the males. Most adolescents reported they had never tried cigarettes (84%), never used alcohol (77%), and never had sex (97%). Males were more likely than females to report a higher frequency of experimentation with smoking and drinking. Overall, school performance and participation in extracurricular activities were significantly related to the health risk behavior scale. Adolescents who demonstrated at least one educational risk (ever skipped school or ever sent out of the classroom) were more likely to engage in other risky behaviors. Also, older and more acculturated adolescents were at increased risk of engaging in health-compromising behaviors. Analysis by gender revealed that the variables age, educational risk, and chance of attending college were all related to health risk behavior for both males and females. Among the boys, those who reported achieving an average grade of B or better had a decreased risk of engaging in health-compromising behaviors; however, neither extracurricular activities nor acculturation was related to health-compromising behaviors in boys. Among the girls, the reverse was true: lack of participation in extracurricular activities was related to health-compromising behaviors, whereas grades were not a significant risk factor.
Conclusions: Among sampled Vietnamese adolescents in California, health risk behaviors are common and inversely related to some school performance indicators. Using these indicators to identify high-risk groups could allow targeted educational programs or interventions for the mitigation of health-compromising behaviors.