Do dogs affect physical activity levels of Latina adolescents in impoverished communities in San Antonio, TX?




Castillo, Jennifer M.

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Background: Childhood obesity is highly prevalent among the fast-growing Latino communities. Promoting physical activity (PA) is a major measure to obesity prevention. American youth's PA levels have declined over the years and most youth are not meeting the current national PA recommendations. From a Social-Ecological Model (SEM) perspective, PA level is influenced by multi-level factors including the environment. Research has shown that many environmental factors, such as crime, inaccessible parks, and community disintegration are PA barriers in low socio-economic status (SES) minority communities. Stray dogs were found to be a PA barrier while domestic dogs appear a PA facilitator. Latina youth in low SES communities may be particularly vulnerable to such environmental factors as they may be at a higher risk of being chased by unleashed dogs, thus preventing outdoor PA. Currently, there is limited research investigating how dogs affect PA levels among Latina youth. The current study examined how dogs affect Latina youth's PA level in the low-SES neighborhoods of the South and West sides of San Antonio, TX.

Methods: Using a triangulation approach, this study involved focus groups with Latina youth and their parents, in-depth interviews with key community informants and extraction of 2009-2012 stray dog and pet violation records from the City of San Antonio Animal Care Services (CoSA ACS). Nine focus groups were conducted with 31 parents and 15 Latina youth. In-depth interviews were conducted with 6 community informants. Inductive content analyses were performed on qualitative data from the focus group and in-depth interview transcripts using Atlas.ti. Descriptive statistics was conducted on the stray dog and pet violation records, along with GIS mapping.

Results: Participants were aware of the obesity problem among youth and perceived that low PA level is a key contributing factor. Although responsible pet ownership was viewed as a strategy to promote PA, stray dogs were identified as a key barrier to PA in these low SES neighborhoods. ACS's record showed that among the 21,000 stray dogs picked up from the 10 Council Districts in the city each year, 60% were from the targeted research areas, i.e., the three Districts San Antonio's Southwest side. Local community members and leaders believed that more should be done to address stray dog problem and promote PA among youth, including public education programs for pet responsibility, free or low cost veterinarian services and a needs for resources to enhance the city's animal control services capacity.

Conclusions: While responsible pet ownership facilitates PA, stray dogs were perceived as a PA barrier among Latina adolescents in low-SES communities in San Antonio. Collaborative efforts are needed to address stray dogs in San Antonio. Potential solutions include building community partnerships, increasing community education on pet responsibility, providing affordable spay and neuter services, and advocating for increasing animal control resources. Future research is needed to quantitatively determine the relationship of stray dog density and PA levels in Latino communities. Intervention research is also needed to study the effect of domestic dogs on PA level among Latina youth.


The author has granted permission for their work to be available to the general public.


Dogs, Latina, Obesity, Physical Activity, Qualitative research, Social-Ecological Model



Health and Kinesiology