Physical Activity and Body Mass Index of Children in an Old Order Amish Community

BASSETT, DAVID R. JR.1; TREMBLAY, MARK S.2,3; ESLIGER, DALE W.2; COPELAND, JENNIFER L.4; BARNES, JOEL D.2; HUNTINGTON, GERTRUDE E.5

Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: March 2007 - Volume 39 - Issue 3 - pp 410-415
doi: 10.1249/mss.0b013e31802d3aa7
BASIC SCIENCES: Epidemiology

The prevalence of childhood obesity is rapidly increasing in many countries throughout the world. Advances in modern technology may have contributed to this problem by reducing children's physical activity levels. Thus, it is interesting to study children belonging to groups that have refrained from adopting modern technology.

Purpose: This study examined the physical activity levels and body mass index (BMI) of Old Order Amish children and adolescents living in a nontechnological farming community.

Methods: One hundred thirty-nine Amish youth (6-18 yr of age) were recruited for the study. BMI was computed from measured height and weight. The schoolchildren were instructed to wear sealed step counters for 7 d. Each school day, research assistants opened the step counters, recorded their steps, reset and resealed them, and placed them back on the children. Older children recorded their steps on a step-counter log sheet.

Results: The number of steps per day (mean ± SD) was 17,525 ± 4443 (measured for four weekdays), 10,661 ± 4208 (measured over Friday, Saturday, and Sunday), and 15,563 ± 3702 (measured for 7 d). All of the step variables (P < 0.001) showed gender effects, but there were no significant age effects. Only 7.2% of the youth were overweight, and only 1.4% were obese.

Conclusion: These Amish youth have high levels of physical activity, and obesity is rare. Comparing our results with those of other studies, it is evident that these Amish youth are more physically active and have a lower rate of obesity than children living in modern, industrialized societies.

1College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences, The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN; 2College of Kinesiology, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, CANADA; 3Statistics Canada, Ottawa, Ontario, CANADA; 4Department of Kinesiology, University of Lethbridge, Lethbridge, Alberta, CANADA; and 5Department of Anthropology, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI

Address for correspondence: David R. Bassett, Jr., Ph.D., Department of Exercise, Sport, and Leisure Studies, The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN 37996; E-mail: dbassett@utk.edu.

Submitted for publication July 2006.

Accepted for publication October 2006.

©2007The American College of Sports Medicine