Publication Date

2011-05-19

Availability

Embargoed

Embargo Period

2013-05-18

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PHD)

Department

Psychology (Arts and Sciences)

Date of Defense

2010-05-24

First Committee Member

Annette M. La Greca

Second Committee Member

Maria M. Llabre

Third Committee Member

Neena M. Malik

Fourth Committee Member

Patrice G. Saab

Fifth Committee Member

Jutta Joormann

Abstract

Objective: Utilizing a conceptual model of the impact of disasters on children╒s functioning, the current study examined unhealthy diet and sedentary activity levels of children exposed to Hurricane Ike. Exposure stressors (perceived and actual life threat) and recovery stressors (hurricane-related stressors and major life events), were hypothesized to be associated with unhealthy diet and sedentary activity. Exposure stressors, recovery stressors, and child demographic characteristics were also expected to be associated with posttraumatic stress (PTS) symptoms. It also was predicted that physical activity would attenuate the relationship between recovery stressors and children╒s PTS symptoms. Finally, the feasibility of collecting health behavior information from children was examined. Method: Utilizing a cross-sectional design, 204 children (51% girls; M age = 9.23, SD = .79; grades 3 and 4) from Galveston, Texas were evaluated 8 months after Hurricane Ike (Time 1). At Time 1, children completed self-report measures of traumatic experiences, major life events, PTS symptoms, height and weight, and health behaviors. 53 children were reevaluated two weeks later (Time 2) to examine the stability and validity of health-related measures. Children completed a second measure of their height, weight, and health behavior measures, and actual measurements of height and weight were also taken. Results: Consistent with expectations, exposure and recovery stressors were associated with sedentary activity and PTS symptoms. Exposure stressors were indirectly related to sedentary activity and PTS symptoms through recovery stressors. However, contrary to expectations, stressors were not associated with unhealthy diet. African American ethnicity, Hispanic ethnicity, and female gender were related to PTS symptoms through recovery stressors. Physical activity did not attenuate the relationship between recovery stressors and children╒s PTS symptoms. In terms of health behaviors, children╒s self-reported weight was both stable and valid from Time 1 to Time 2. Self-reported height was stable but invalid. Measures of children╒s unhealthy diet and sedentary activity showed moderate stability. The measure of physical activity exhibited low stability and low validity. Conclusions: Sedentary activity may be a particularly important health behavior to examine after disasters. Implications for schools, families, and future research are discussed. Alternative measures of physical activity should be considered.

Keywords

Disasters; diet; activity level; PTSD; children

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