Date of Conferral



Doctor of Public Health (DrPH)


Public Health


Marylou Gutierrez


Childhood obesity has reached epidemic proportions in the United States and has been linked to hypertension, especially among African American youth. Optimistic bias leads youth to underestimate their susceptibility to negative health outcomes. Public health officials want to reduce risk factors to result in significant long term reduction in cardiovascular disease. The purpose of this study was to explore adolescent behavior practices in a school district and prevalence of high blood pressure and obesity in that population. The health belief model guided the framework for this study. Research questions examined relationship between individual health risk practices and optimistic bias on health outcomes. Using a correlational research design, 433 African American high school students were administered a face-to-face survey and had their obesity and blood pressure measured by the school nurse. Canonical correlational analyses were used to examine relationships between health risk practices and descriptive statistics for optimistic bias and health outcomes. Among the health risk practices, engaging in moderate exercise for at least 30 minutes in the last 7 days and lower blood pressure was the only statistically significant relationship. Despite presence of clinical risk factors for hypertension and obesity, two-thirds of the students did not perceive themselves to be at risk of developing cardiovascular disease, with males at greater risk than females. Reducing health optimistic bias is viewed as an effective way of motivating young people to adopt more positive behaviors. This study has social change implications for using educational institutions to implement intervention programs that promote positive health behavior among youth not as an individual responsibility but as a way to reduce health disparities at the systemic level.