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Survey Suggests African Americans with MS May Engage in Less Physical Activity than Caucasians with MS: Programs to Encourage Activity May Improve Health Outcomes

March 3, 2016

Summary
  • Increasing evidence points to the benefits of physical activity in those with MS.
  • A survey of 151 African Americans with MS and 185 Caucasians with MS found that African Americans reported lower physical activity levels than Caucasians.
  • Factors related to making health-related behavior changes – such as self-efficacy (individuals’ belief in their ability to exercise) – were similarly reported lower in African Americans with MS.
  • The team is using these results to develop a physical activity intervention program guided by input from African Americans living with MS.
  • The researchers (Drs. Dominique Kinnett-Hopkins and Robert W. Motl of University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign) published results in Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (published online December 28, 2015).
Background: Research shows that MS occurs in most ethnic groups, including African Americans, Asians and Hispanics/Latinos; susceptibility rates vary among these groups. One team previously reported that African Americans tended to have a more aggressive course of disease than Caucasian Americans, were at higher risk for developing mobility impairments, were more likely to develop MS later in life, and were at higher risk for having symptoms restricted to the optic nerve and spinal cord. (Neurology 2004;63[11]:2039-45
 
Evidence is increasing on the benefits of exercise for managing MS, but little is known about how Caucasians and African Americans with MS may differ in terms of exercise habits. This information could be crucial to developing interventions that help both of these populations live their best lives with MS.
 
The Study: University of Illinois researchers recruited 151 African Americans with MS enrolled in the NARCOMS patient registry, as well as 185 Caucasians with MS. Participants completed a packet of questionnaires. Questions covered demographics, disease activity, and physical activity. The surveys also covered factors that have been found to affect behavior changes related to health, such as exercise self-efficacy (individuals’ belief in their ability to exercise), function, social support, expected outcomes of exercise, and exercise goal setting and planning.
 
African Americans with MS reported lower physical activity levels than Caucasians with MS with similar levels of disabilities. Levels of social factors including self-efficacy, function, expected outcomes of exercise, and exercise goal setting and planning were similarly lower in African Americans with MS.
 
The team (Dominique Kinnett-Hopkins and Dr. Robert W. Motl of University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign) published results in Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (published online December 28, 2015).
 
Next Steps: The authors comment that strategies targeting factors such as self-efficacy and goal setting have been shown to increase physical activity among Caucasians with MS. The team is using its results to develop such a physical activity intervention guided by input from African-Americans living with MS.
 
Read more about exercise options for people with MS
Read more about resources for African Americans with MS

About Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis is an unpredictable, often disabling disease of the central nervous system that disrupts the flow of information within the brain, and between the brain and body. Symptoms range from numbness and tingling to blindness and paralysis. The progress, severity and specific symptoms of MS in any one person cannot yet be predicted, but advances in research and treatment are leading to better understanding and moving us closer to a world free of MS. Most people with MS are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50, with at least two to three times more women than men being diagnosed with the disease. MS affects more than 2.3 million people worldwide.

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