Background: Development of effective behavioral interventions to promote weight control and physical activity among diverse, underserved populations is a public health priority. Community focused wellness organizations, such as YMCAs, could provide a unique channel with which to reach such populations. This study assessed health behaviors and related characteristics of members of an urban YMCA facility.
Methods: We surveyed 135 randomly selected members of an urban YMCA facility in Massachusetts to examine self-reported (1) physical activity, (2) dietary behaviors, (3) body mass index, and (4) correlates of behavior change among short-term (i.e., one year or less) and long-term (i.e., more than one year) members. Chi-square tests were used to assess bivariate associations between variables, and multivariate linear regression models were fit to examine correlates of health behaviors and weight status.
Results: Eighty-nine percent of short-term and 94% of long-term members reported meeting current physical activity recommendations. Only 24% of short-term and 19% of long-term members met fruit and vegetable consumption recommendations, however, and more than half were overweight or obese. Length of membership was not significantly related to weight status, dietary behaviors, or physical activity. Most respondents were interested in changing health behaviors, in the preparation stage of change, and had high levels of self-efficacy to change behaviors. Short-term members had less education (p = 0.02), lower household incomes (p = 0.02), and were less likely to identify as white (p = 0.005) than long-term members. In multivariate models, females had lower BMI than males (p = 0.003) and reported less physical activity (p = 0.008). Physical activity was also inversely associated with age (p = 0.0004) and education (p = 0.02).
Conclusion: Rates of overweight/obesity and fruit and vegetable consumption suggested that there is a need for a weight control intervention among members of an urban community YMCA. Membership in such a community wellness facility alone might not be sufficient to help members maintain a healthy weight. The data indicate that YMCA members are interested in making changes in their dietary and physical activity behaviors. Targeting newer YMCA members might be an effective way of reaching underserved populations. These data will help inform the development of a weight control intervention tailored to this setting.