Middle School Students Leisure Activity Engagement Implications by jennyyingdi


									Journal of Park and Recreation Administration                         Volume 26, Number 3
Fall 2008                                                                        pp. 59-74

Middle School Students’ Leisure
Activity Engagement: Implications
for Park and Recreation
    Heather E. Erwin

     EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Physical activity participation has been found to
     decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease, anxiety, and depression (Strong
     et al., 2005); yet it declines drastically throughout adolescence (Caspersen,
     Pereira, & Curran, 2000). Therefore, it is important to develop and establish
     programs that encourage physical activity participation for youth. Several
     programs endorsing physical activity have been grounded in the ecological
     model (McLeroy, Bibeau, Steckler, & Glanz, 1988; Sallis et al., 2006), which
     suggests that intrapersonal, interpersonal/cultural, organizational, physical
     environmental, and policy factors influence physical activity. Understanding
     the ecological model and in which activities adolescents engage will guide
     organizations in providing programs that support youth participation in the
     recommended levels of physical activity.
           The purpose of this study was to identify the most prevalent leisure
     activities of adolescents and describe relationships between demographic
     variables and leisure activity engagement. Middle-school participants
     (n=851) from a county in the Southeastern United States reported their
     leisure activities. Results indicated that these adolescents engaged most often
     in sedentary leisure activities; however, the most frequently cited physical
     activities were playing sports with friends, walking/jogging/running, and
     organized sports. While gender, socioeconomic status, and school type were
     significant contributors to adolescent physical activity, gender was the most
     influential demographic variable on all types of leisure.
           Based upon previous research and findings from this study, to promote
     leisure-time physical activity in this population, park and recreation
     departments should: (a) consider active video games; (b) assimilate peers
     into leisure events (e.g., social support); (c) continue providing a variety
     of intramural programs for all ages; and (d) offer multiple locations for
     youth to play sports or other active games (e.g., environmental factors). In
     addition, organizations should promote physical activity through incentive
     programs, social events, and trainings for leaders. Findings from this study
     support the ecological model because intrapersonal factors (e.g., gender,
     Socioeconomic Status) influenced participation in select physical activities,
     high percentages of participants were engaged in activities with friends (e.g.,

     interpersonal factors), and the physical environment was influenced by the
     parks and recreation department that currently provided several leisure-time
     physical activities for these youth. This evidence suggests that well-designed
     programs provided by park and recreation departments have potential to
     positively affect the physical activity levels of middle school students.

     Keywords: recreation, physical activity, adolescent, environment

     Author: Heather E. Erwin is with the Department of Kinesiology and Health
     Promotion, University of Kentucky, 115 Seaton Center, Lexington, KY
     40506-0219 Email: heather.erwin@uky.edu Phone: (859)-257-5311 Fax:

     Acknowledgment: The author would like to acknowledge John Bobel,
     Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government Division of Parks and
     Recreation Information Officer, for all of his assistance with this project.

     Numerous investigations since the turn of the century suggest that physical
activity declines drastically throughout the period of adolescence (Bradley, McMurray,
Harrell, & Deng, 2000; Caspersen, Pereira, & Curran, 2000). For example, research
suggests that between the ages of 12 to 21, the most consistent drop-offs in habitual,
high-intensity activity patterns occur (Caspersen et al., 2000). In addition to age, both
gender and socioeconomic status (SES) have been found to influence physical activity.
For instance, females tend to partake in less vigorous physical activity than males
(Bradley et al., 2000; Sallis, Prochaska, & Taylor, 2000), while youth of lower SES
have been found to participate in lower levels of physical activity than those of higher
SES (Humbert et al., 2006; Woodfield, Duncan, Al-Nakeeb, Al-Hakeeb in refs. Nevill,
& Jenkins, 2002).
     Research findings have suggested several reasons for low levels of physical activity,
including lack of time, technology, social influences, lack of access, safety issues, and
negative perceptions toward physical activity (Allison et al., 2006; Dwyer et al., 2006;
Grieser et al., 2006). Additional research suggests that youth often encounter more
appealing sedentary alternatives to physical activity choices (Epstein, Roemmich,
Saad, & Handley, 2004). This is particularly alarming, considering lifestyle behavior
patterns are established during adolescence (Aarts, Paulussen, & Schaalma, 1997).
Therefore, planning and implementing strategies that aim to prevent these decreases in
physical activity engagement is paramount.
     The fact that most Americans do not participate in recommended levels of physical
activity (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], 2006) is disturbing
because of the health benefits associated with physical activity. These benefits include
decreased risk of cardiovascular disease, maintenance of bone health, and increase
in psychosocial outcomes, among others (Strong et al., 2005). Due to the numerous
positive aspects of engaging in physical activity, the government has implemented
several initiatives and health policies to encourage physical activity to fight the onset
of chronic diseases. Among those initiatives, the Trial of Activity for Adolescent
Girls (TAAG) program, sponsored by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute,

used a school-community linked intervention model to reduce the decline in physical
activity among females (Rohm Young et al., 2006). Specifically, physical education,
health education, physical activity programs outside of school, and physical activity
promotions were utilized to encourage physical activity for girls. Presently, physical
activity outcomes of the intervention have not been published; however, a community
agency survey revealed that the most commonly offered physical activity programs
available to girls included basketball, soccer, and dance, with those also being the most
popular (Saunders & Moody, 2006).
      Another initiative was the Sports, Play and Active Recreation for Kids (SPARK)
intervention, which consisted of health-related activity units during physical education
(Sallis et al., 1997). A major emphasis of the program was to improve teacher efficiency
and increase the amount of moderate to vigorous physical activity (MVPA) of students
during physical education. It was shown that SPARK certified physical educators and
classroom teachers trained in SPARK provided significantly more MVPA than untrained
teachers (Sallis et al., 1997). SPARK has been expanded to middle and high school
students, and now has an after-school component that includes information, training,
and resources for after-school program staff. Research has also shown SPARK after-
school programs to be effective for youth (Ward, Saunders, & Pate, 2007).
      Middle School Physical Activity and Nutrition (M-SPAN) was another intervention
designed to use a community approach (e.g., environment, policy, and social marketing)
to improve middle school students’ physical activity and nutrition (Sallis et al., 2003).
Within M-SPAN, physical activity opportunities were offered before, during, and after
school. It was found that schools with high supervision and facility improvements
promoted students to be more physically active (Sallis et al., 2001); however, few
students used leisure time at school to be physically active (McKenzie, Marshall, Sallis,
& Conway, 2000). Therefore, policies and environmental structures are warranted to
increase adolescent physical activity. Many interventions like those described have
been grounded in the ecological model because they take several factors into account
at varying levels.
      The ecological model suggests that multiple variables influence physical activity
participation (Sallis et al., 2006). Among those are intrapersonal, interpersonal/
cultural, organizational, physical environmental, and policy variables. Intrapersonal
factors are biological or psychological characteristics such as gender, age, knowledge,
behavior, self-concept, and skills. Interpersonal/cultural factors consist of support
from family and friends or modeling. Organizational variables include the availability
of or advertisement for leagues or programs offered in the community. Physical
environmental factors are comprised of facilities, programs, and safety. Policy includes
laws, rules, regulations, and codes related to physical activity (Sallis et al., 2006).
In combination, these variables influence the physical activity level of an individual
(McLeroy, Bibeau, Steckler, & Glanz, 1988). In order to explain and understand why
youth are physically active or inactive, behaviors must therefore be examined from
multiple perspectives. Researchers suggest that the most influential physical activity
interventions guarantee safe, attractive, and convenient locations; offer structured and
non-structured programs that educate and motivate individuals to use facilities; and
change social norms and culture through the use of media and organization (Sallis et
al., 2006; Thompson, Rehman, & Humbert, 2005).

     One area within the ecological model that has been emphasized recently in
the literature is environmental access to physical activity, such as the availability
of sidewalks for walking and bicycling, lights for nighttime use of facilities, and
parks and playgrounds for play places (Sallis, Bauman, & Pratt, 1998). Leisure and
recreation entities, such as park and recreation departments, are in position to provide
active leisure pursuits for youth in a variety of settings. Specifically, Kaczynski and
Henderson (2007) demonstrated that proximity to parks or recreation opportunities
was related to higher levels of physical activity. In addition, Thompson and colleagues
(2005) found that opportunities for structured and non-structured leisure physical
activity and friends were important for adolescent physical activity engagement. Due to
the importance of these adolescent predictors of physical activity, individuals working
in the field of leisure should obtain information regarding youth leisure engagement
and behaviors in order to develop appropriate programs to promote physical activity.

                         Youth Physical Activity Behaviors

      In order to guide interventions for increasing physical activity levels, researchers
have focused on determining activities in which children and adolescents engage.
As mentioned previously, physical activity is impacted by age, gender, and SES. In
particular, researchers have found that age relates to the type of sport participation.
According to Mota and Esculcas (2002), older youth tend to be members of organized
sports, while younger adolescents report more participation in unstructured physical
activities or sports.
      In terms of gender, previous research suggests that males are more likely to
participate in and prefer team sports that are of moderate to vigorous intensity, while
females choose more individual activities of lower intensity levels (Fuchs et al.,
1988; Leslie, Owen, & Sallis, 1999). More specifically, males seem to prefer baseball,
basketball, football, soccer, and weight training (Fuchs et al., 1988; Wall, Zhang,
Pearson, Martin, & Meyers, 1999), while females seem to favor aerobics, cheerleading,
gymnastics, jogging/walking, skating, swimming, tennis, and volleyball (Fuchs et al.,
1988; Grieser et al., 2006; Wall et al., 1999).
      Humbert et al. (2006) qualitatively addressed the relationship between SES and
physical activity. They reported that adolescents living in areas of low SES indicated
family obligations (e.g., housework, chores, taking care of siblings), adult involvement
(e.g., organizing events, role modeling), and environmental factors (e.g., proximity,
cost, facilities) as important factors influencing their engagement in physical activity.
This study also highlighted environmental factors, such as accessibility and appearance
of facilities, cost, and the safety of participation. Individuals of high SES, on the
other hand, noted that time barriers such as work or other scheduled activities (e.g.,
piano lessons), parental involvement, and the type of activity (e.g., seasonal activity)
impacted their physical activity involvement. Finally, the investigation revealed
homework, perceived competence, perceived skill, and friends were common factors
related to physical activity among both SES groups.
      Research indicates that adolescent participation in leisure-time physical activity
is a significant predictor of adult involvement (Scott & Willits, 1998; Vanreusel et al.,
1997). In particular, sports participation during adolescence has been found to predict

sports participation and engagement in fitness activities during young adulthood
(Perkins, Jacobs, Barber, & Eccles, 2004). Telama, Laakso, Yan, and Viikari (1997)
reported that participation in competitive sport during childhood and adolescence
was one of the best predictors of physical activity in young adulthood. Vanreusel and
colleagues (1997), however, found that individuals who participated in competitive
sports as children were less likely than those who participated in recreational sports to
engage in sports as adults. Despite these somewhat mixed conclusions, it can be said
that physical activity appears to track from childhood into adulthood (Malina, 1996).
     In summary, it is important to understand which leisure activities adolescents
actually engage, in order for organizations and institutions (e.g., park and recreation
departments) to provide programs that will encourage and attract youth to participate
in regular leisure physical activity. Previous research suggests that focusing on
adolescent leisure time may have the potential to increase their physical activity levels
(Mota & Esculcas, 2002). Youths who engage in recreational sports exhibit a greater
likelihood of sport involvement into adulthood than those with a competitive sports
background (Vanreusel et al., 1997), indicating that leisure and recreational programs
(e.g., events and leagues) may be ideal sources of physical activity for adolescents.
The purpose of this study was to: (a) identify the most prevalent leisure activities of
a sample of adolescents in the southeastern United States; (b) describe relationships
between demographic variables and leisure activity engagement among these youth;
and (c) identify demographic variables that predict physical activity. By identifying
leisure-time physical activities that youth enjoy, park and recreation programs might
be developed to best increase physical activity among American youth.


     Participants were recruited from randomly selected classes within nine middle
schools (7 public, 2 private) in one primarily urban county in the Southeastern United
States. Participants included 851 students in 6th, 7th, and 8th grades with ages ranging
from 10 to 15 (M = 12.16, SD = .99). There were 725 participants from public schools
and 126 from private schools. Table 1 provides a frequency distribution of participant
demographic variables.

                Table 1. Participant Characteristics (N=851)

                 Variable            N         %         Cumulative %

                     Male            469       55.1%         55.1%
                     Gender          382       44.9%        100.0%
                    10               2         0.002%       0.002%
                    11               244       28.7%         28.7%
                    12               304       35.7%         64.4%
                    13               201       23.6%         88.0%
                    14               75        8.8%          96.8%

                   Table 1. Participant Characteristics (N=851)

                    Variable            N          %         Cumulative %

                        15               10        1.2%          98.0%
                        Unknown          15        1.8%          99.8%
                         6               388       45.6%         45.6%
                         7               343       40.3%         85.9%
                         8               120       14.1%        100.0%
                    Socioeconomic Status
                    $10,000-19,999       46        5.4%            5.4%
                    $20,000-29,999       71        8.3%           13.7%
                    $30,000-39,999       222       26.1%          39.8%
                    $40,000-49,999       210       24.7%          64.5%
                    $50,000-59,999       96        11.3%          75.8%
                    $60,000-69,999       60        7.1%           82.9%
                    $70,000-79,999       90        10.6%          93.5%
                    Unknown              56        6.6%          100.1%
                    School Type
                        Private          126       14.8%          14.8%
                        Public           725       85.2%         100.0%

Instrument and Procedures
     The recreation questionnaire, developed by the county parks and recreation
department, consisted of 14 closed-ended checklist questions and six open-ended
response questions. Its purpose was to gather data regarding middle school students’
level of involvement and participation in the county’s park and recreation activities,
programs, and facilities, as well as to identify their leisure and recreation preferences.
The portion of the questionnaire data utilized for this study included demographic
information questions (e.g., gender, age, and zip code of residence) and one closed-
ended checklist question, which asked participants to identify all their leisure activities.
These items were chosen for the checklist because they are activities offered by the
county parks and recreation department. Table 2 provides a list of leisure options
available in the questionnaire and accompanying response rates for each option.
     During October and November 2005, the questionnaires were administered to
students from each of the nine middle schools agreeing to participate in the study. A
research assistant was present during administration of the questionnaires and was
available to answer any questions from participants. Questionnaires took approximately
10 minutes for participants to complete.

Data Analyses
      Three separate analyses were conducted. First, data were analyzed to provide
frequency counts of leisure activities. Second, chi-square tests were performed to
test the null hypothesis of no association between demographic variables and leisure

                 Table 2. Participant Leisure Activity Engagement

                  Activity                      N (Yes)         %

                  Watch TV                       694           82.0%
                  Hang out with Friends          641           75.8%
                  Go to Movies                   544           64.3%
                  Computer Games/Internet        543           64.2%
                  Play Video Games               512           60.5%
                  Sports with Friends            462           54.6%
                  Walking/Jogging/Running        439           51.9%
                  Organized School Sports        365           43.1%
                  Club/League Sports             279           33.0%
                  Skateboarding/Rollerblading    233           27.5%
                  Church Recreational Sports     162           19.1%
                  Intramural School Sports       125           14.8%
                  Ice Skating                    122           14.4%
                  Dance Lessons/Team             118           13.9%
                  Swim Team                      112           13.2%
                  Gymnastics                     106           12.5%
                  Boy/Girl Scouting               79            9.3%
                  Community Center                75            8.9%
                  Roller Hockey                   62            7.3%
                  Step Dance Team                 56            6.6%

activities. Third, multiple logistic regression equations were conducted to identify
demographic variables contributing to engagement in the three most commonly
reported physical activities. Logistic regressions were chosen because the data were
categorical and could be transformed into indicator variables (Mullineaux, Barnes, &
Barnes, 2001).
     Specifically, demographics included gender, age, grade level, SES (via zip code),
and school type (e.g., public, private). For chi-square analyses, the demographic
variable of age was split into two groups: younger (10- to 12-year-olds) and older
(13- to 15-year-olds) adolescents. Median household income was retrieved for each
zip code in the county in which the study took place (United States Census Bureau,
2005). Zip codes were coded in increments of $10,000. Category 1 consisted of median
household incomes ranging from $10,000-$19,999. Category 2 included median
household incomes ranging from $20,000-$29,999. This continued through Category
7, as $77,386 was the highest median household income listed for the zip codes in this
study. When examining the data by SES, participants were grouped by income based
on the zip code in which they resided. They were split into low ($10,000 to $39,999)
and high ($40,000 to $79,999) SES for chi-square analyses. All data were analyzed
using SPSS 15.0.


Activity Participation
     Youth in this study indicated that they engaged in sedentary leisure activities
most often. Over half of participants reported that they watch TV (82.0%), hang out
with friends (75.8%), go to the movies (64.3%), play computer games/surf the Internet
(64.2%), and play video games (60.5%). The most common active leisure pursuits
included playing sports with friends after school (54.6%); walking, jogging, or running
(51.9%); participating in organized school sports (43.1%); playing club or league sports
(33.0%); skateboarding/rollerblading (27.5%); and participating in church recreational
sports (19.1%).

Relationship between Demographic Variables and Leisure Activity Engagement
     Chi-square tests revealed that gender was the demographic variable associated
with the most types of adolescent leisure activity engagement. Significantly more males
played video games (x2 (1, N = 845) = 166.75, p < .01), participated in intramurals
(x2 (1, N = 846) = 15.62, p < .01), and played sports with friends (x2 (1, N = 843) =
9.12, p < .01), than females. However, significantly more females participated in dance
lessons or the dance team (x2 (1, N = 846) = 124.14, p < .01), gymnastics (x2 (1, N =
846) = 54.18, p < .01), and ice skating (x2 (1, N = 845) = 47.38, p < .01). The leisure
activities found not to be related to gender were participation in church recreational
sports, community center activities, organized school sports, roller hockey, and
     Age, grade level, and SES were also associated with a select number of leisure
activities. Chi-square tests indicated significantly more young adolescents engaged in
clubs or leagues (x2 (1, N = 832) = 5.58, p = .02) and intramural sports (x2 (1, N = 832) =
10.84, p < .01) than older adolescents. Grade level also influenced engagement in going
to the movies, as 7th and 8th grade students reported significantly higher incidences of
this activity( x2 (2, N = 845) = 11.16, p < .01). As for SES, participants living in areas
of lower SES indicated higher involvement in participation in step dance for leisure
(x2 (1, N = 792) = 14.50, p < .01), while those who live in areas of higher SES were
significantly more likely to be a member of a club or league team (x2 (1, N = 792) =
11.89, p < .01), hang out with friends (x2 (1, N = 792) = 14.64, p < .01), and walk, jog
or run for leisure (x2 (1, N = 792) = 5.35, p = .02).

Correlates of Physical Activity Engagement
     Multiple logistic regression analyses were employed to examine which
demographic variables most likely contributed to adolescent physical activity
engagement in this study (table 3). The association between each demographic variable
and activity were examined independently in order to hold all other variables constant.
Characteristics of the reference group individual included: male, 8th grade, 15 years,
SES group of $70,000-79,999, and private school attendee. The three most prevalent
physical activities were selected for analysis because over 40% of this sample of youth
indicated participation in each. In each regression analysis, the predictor variables
were gender, grade, age, SES, and school type (using indicator variables to code grade,
age, and SES), while the criterion variable was the type of physical activity. When the

correlates of playing sports with friends were examined, gender and SES were the only
statistically significant contributors (R² = .03, x2(7, N = 792) = 19.85, p < .01). Males
were .62 times as likely to play sports with friends than females. Additionally, the odds
ratio for SES indicates that an adolescent classified as $60,000-69,999 SES was 2.02
times likely to play sports with friends than one classified as $70,000-79,999 SES.
      A second logistic regression analysis attempted to identify the personal variables
contributing to walking, jogging, and/or running. Similar to the previous regression
analysis, gender and SES were statistically significant predictors (R² = .07, x2(7, N =
792) = 41.33, p < .001). According to odds ratio values, adolescents living in fairly
high SES areas (i.e., $50,000-59,999) were 1.73 times more likely to walk, jog, or
run than those living in areas of the highest SES (e.g., $70,000-79,999). Males were
slightly more apt (OR = .47) to walk, jog, or run than females.
      Finally, a third logistic regression analysis was conducted to identify the
contributing factors to participation in organized sports. Type of school (e.g., public,
private) and SES were the only statistically significant predictors of involvement in
organized sports (R² = .05, x2(9, N = 792) = 32.36, p < .001); when controlling for
all other variables, adolescents enrolled in public schools and those living in areas of
low SES (i.e., $10,000-19,999) were 2.98 and 1.90 times more likely to participate,
respectively. See Table 3.

                           Discussion and Implications

     Physical activity presents multiple health benefits, including decreased risk
of cardiovascular diseases (Strong et al., 2005). Due to the rising obesity rates of
American youth (CDC, 2004), it is critical that adolescents begin and/or maintain
regular physical activity participation. Research indicates that physical activity
interventions should be implemented during the early stages of life (Caspersen et al.,
2000) and should be gender-specific (Bradley et al., 2000). As suggested by the social
ecological model (McLeroy et al., 1988), park and recreation departments can play
important roles in increasing the physical activity levels of youth (e.g., behaviors) by
making physically active interventions available via programs, classes, events, and
leagues (e.g., environmental variables). Identifying current behaviors in active leisure
pursuits is necessary to determine which opportunities are most likely to encourage
adolescent participation.
     The adolescents in this study engaged in a variety of leisure activities; similar to
previous research, most of those pursuits were sedentary or low-intensity activities
(Erwin, 2007). The most common activities in which youth participated were those
requiring low intensity levels, such as watching TV, hanging out with friends, going to
the movies, surfing the Internet, and playing video games. Sports with friends, walking or
jogging, and organized school sports were the most common physical activities reported.
Based on these findings and in concordance with the ecological model (Sallis et al.,
2006), it is important for park and recreation departments to continue providing physical
activity opportunities for youth and to explore the possibilities of offering additional
leisure physical activities that appeal to adolescents (Saunders & Moody, 2006).
     When examined by demographics, gender was related to the majority of leisure
pursuits. As reported earlier, males were more likely to engage in video games,
Table 3. Logistic Regression Predicting Physical Activities from Gender, Grade, Age, SES, and School Type

                                Sports with Friends                         Walking, Jogging, Running               Organized Sports

  Predictor             ß          SE       OR        Wald x2          ß         SE     OR      Wald x2       ß     SE      OR       Wald x2

  Gender                -.48         .15     .62        10.61**      -.76        .15      .47    25.85**    -.11     .15     .90         .51
  Grade                                                  3.26                                     2.50                                  2.97
       6                .34          .35     1.40         .92         .11        .35     1.11      .09       .60     .36    1.82        2.77
       7                .05          .30      .95         .03         .35        .30     1.42     1.40       .33     .31    1.38        1.14
  Age                                                   4 .69                                     2.94                                  3.99
      10             -21.26         2.52     .00          .00        .99        1.71     2.70      .34       .36    1.64    1.44         .05
      11                 .11         .78    1.11          .02       1.08         .90     2.96     1.44      -.14     .82     .87         .03
      12                 .49         .76    1.63          .41        .84         .88     2.31      .89        .18    .80    1.19         .05
      13                 .33         .74    1.39          .20       1.00         .86     2.71     1.34        .20    .78    1.22         .07
      14                 .67         .73    1.95          .85        .81         .86     2.26      .91        .57    .76    1.76         .55
  SES                                                    7.89                                    13.43*                                 9.57
  $10,000-19,999        -.23         .38     .79           .37        .01        .39     1.01      .00        .64     .39   1.90        2.70*
  $20,000-29,999        -.23         .33     .79          .49        -.60        .34      .55     3.18        .19     .33   1.21         .37
  $30,000-39,999         .02        .27     1.02          .01         .04        .27     1.04      .02        .11     .27   1.12         .17
  $40,000-49,999         .11        .27     1.12          .17         .17        .27     1.19      .40       -.23    .27     .79         .71
  $50,000-59,999        -.13         .30     .88          .19         .55        .31     1.73     3.13*       .08     .31   1.09         .07
  $60,000-69,999         .70        .37     2.02         3.66*        .38        .35     1.46     1.15       -.43    .36     .65        1.37
  School Type           .03         .22     1.03          .02        -.01        .22      .99      .00      1.09      .23   2.98       22.79**
  Constant            -3.46     4705.42       .03         .00         .30        .30     1.35     1.00       -.35    .29     .70        1.49
Note. Reference groups for each variable are as follows: Gender (male), Grade (8), Age (15), SES ($70,000-79,999), School Type (private).
*p < .10, **p < .01

intramurals, and sports with friends, while females were more likely to take part in
dance, gymnastics, ice skating, step dance, swimming, walking/jogging, hanging
out with friends, and going to the movies. These results are consistent with previous
literature (Faucette et al., 1995; Fuchs et al., 1988; Grieser et al., 2006; Wall et al.,
1999). Findings suggest that park and recreation departments should begin to or
continue to offer gender-favorite activities (Saunders & Moody, 2006). Because video
game participation was so prevalent among males, leisure and recreation organizations
should consider introducing active video games, such as Dance Dance Revolution
Game™ or Nintendo Wii™, as a way to peak interest while promoting physical activity.
For females, park and recreation departments should continue to offer individual,
non-manipulative activities such as dance classes, gymnastics, ice skating, and swim
lessons. Because a large number of female respondents identified hanging out with
friends as a popular activity, providing opportunities for physical activity at social
venues, such as the movie theater lobby, the mall, or at camps, may also encourage
females to be physically active.
      Age and grade level were related to few activities in which youth participated.
More young participants were involved with boy/girl scouts and intramurals than older
participants, while a greater number of older participants indicated they spent time at the
movies. Recreation departments should therefore maintain and build upon intramural
programs because younger individuals may not have access to organized school sports.
In accord with Mota and Esculcas’s (2007) suggestion, training should also be provided
for boy/girl scout leaders on ways to incorporate physical activities during scout
meetings or at events. For instance, physical activity professionals can offer workshops
regarding behavior management techniques and protocols for managing youth during
physical activity. In addition, these workshops could include statistics on the rates of
obesity in American youth and the importance of physical activity in reversing these
trends. Information on children and adolescent motivation would be an important factor
for these informational sessions, as many adults who volunteer to work with youth have
little to no idea how to peak and maintain youth interests. Educating these volunteers is
vital to the creation of a positive physical activity atmosphere for children. Individuals
running the workshops could provide examples of physical activities. These types of
trainings should be adopted by organizations such as park and recreation departments
and deemed mandatory for adults who volunteer to work with youth in the community
(e.g., youth coaches, boy/girl scout leaders, 4H leaders).
      Participants living in areas of low SES were more likely to attend the local
community center and be members of step dance teams than those living in higher
SES areas. Low SES was also a predictor of participation in organized sports, while
high SES contributed to playing sports with friends, walking, jogging, or running,
and participation in clubs/leagues or intramurals. These differences may be due to
family obligations, such as babysitting younger siblings, or less adult involvement
for youth of low SES (Humbert et al., 2006). Based on these findings, it is suggested
that municipal park and recreation departments consider offering step dance classes or
competitions, providing multiple physical activity opportunities at community centers,
and making scholarships available for these individuals of low SES to play on club or
league teams. Another possibility for increasing the rates of physical activity for youth
living in areas of low SES is to offer free incentive programs for participation.

      Research has shown that programs such as the VERBTM Summer Scorecard have
been effective in improving physical activity for all youth, ages 9 to 13 (Baldwin et
al., 2006; Courtney, 2004). The VERBTM Summer Scorecard program grew from the
Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s VERBTM It’s what you do social marketing
campaign to increase and maintain physical activity among tweens (youth aged 9-13).
Offered at no cost, tweens register for the VERBTM Summer Scorecard and keep track
of their physical activity throughout the summer. Different community organizations
offer free and discounted classes, programs, and events for adolescents (e.g., free pass
to local swimming pool, free karate class, discounted bowling games or gymnastics
classes) to accumulate activity on select days in June, July and August. Based on the
amount of engagement in physical activity, participants are eligible for drawings for
prizes donated by local organizations. Example incentives include Nintendo® WiisTM,
AppleTM mini iPodTM shuffles, bikes, YMCA memberships, and gift cards to a variety
of sporting goods stores. These incentive programs can be funded by national health
organizations, grants, donations or through local leisure and recreation organizations.
      A high percentage of participants in this study indicated that they hang out with
friends and play sports with friends, suggesting that assimilating peers into leisure and
recreation events is one method to help achieve high participation rates. Congruent
with the ecological model (McLeroy et al., 1988; Sallis et al., 2006) and previous
research (Barr-Anderson et al., 2007; Thompson et al., 2005), the social aspect of
recreation (e.g., friends) has a huge influence on adolescent behaviors. In one study,
adolescent girls indicated that the social environment (e.g., presence of friends) of
the TAAG intervention was important to their physical activity (Barr-Anderson et
al., 2007). Additional research has also suggested that there is a relationship between
girls’ physical activity and their reported friends’ physical activity; an even stronger
physical activity association has been found when two girls report a reciprocal
friendship (Schofield, Mummery, Schofield, & Hopkins, 2007). It has also been shown
that regardless of SES, friends are a powerful force regarding adolescent physical
activity (Humbert et al., 2006). Therefore, when targeting physical activity, events or
classes should include opportunities for participants to interact with friends in a fun
setting. Park and recreation departments could offer physical activity opportunities
specifically geared for groups of adolescents or families. Perhaps youth could enter a
contest in which they compete against other pairs or teams to see who can accumulate
the most physical activity at the community center or over the course of a month.
This would focus on the interpersonal (e.g., social) and organizational factors of the
ecological model.
      Another possibility for incorporating peers and other social influences with
physical activity is for park and recreation departments to bring these opportunities to
youth, as opposed to requiring them to rely on transportation to and from community
centers, parks, and other locations. For instance, park and recreation professionals could
partner with the physical education teacher or other health promotion staff members at
the local school to offer free before- or after-school physical activity clubs/intramurals,
promote active recess (if offered to students), or host physically active talent shows
(e.g., dance-offs, motor skill competitions). These programs could also be provided
at popular hangouts for adolescents (e.g., skate parks, malls, and at school events like
halftime of sport competitions or back-to-school nights). If located where the target

audience is already convened, physical environmental factors of the ecological model,
such as transportation or safety, should not be a factor in youth participation.

                               Limitations of the Study

      As in most research, there were limitations to this study. One limitation was that
the sample represented adolescents from one geographic location. Participants were
comprised of middle school students from a single county in the Southeastern United
States; therefore, the findings may only be truly generalizable to individuals living
in areas with similar characteristics. Valuable information could also be gained by
comparing participants by race. A previous study revealed that youth of various races
preferred different leisure activities (Wall et al., 1999), which would have distinct
implications for park and recreation departments housed within specific racial clusters.
Future investigations should represent youth from different age groups, races, SES,
and geographic locations throughout the United States. In addition, it would be useful
to determine how much physical activity these youth accumulate via their current
leisure pursuits. Due to the fact that American adolescents, as a whole, are not reaching
recommended levels of physical activity, several questions arise. Are they not receiving
enough opportunities to engage in the types of physical activities in which they already
participate? Or is it that they desire physical activities that are not offered? These types
of questions may offer potential solutions to the physical inactivity problem.
      A second limitation of this study was the limited nature of the activity/leisure
list participants were given on the questionnaire. Due to the fact that the items on the
questionnaire were fairly specific to those offered by the local parks and recreation
department and that very few participants indicated any extra leisure activities in the
“other” option, the leisure list was restrictive with regard to physical activity options
for adolescents. Future studies should include an exhaustive list of physical activities
for leisure.
      Finally, a third limitation was that the study did not fully investigate the ecological
model. In particular, interpersonal factors, physical environmental variables and
policies related to physical activity were not addressed with these participants. The
inclusion of additional elements of the model would offer a greater understanding of
how leisure time contributes to youth physical activity.


     Despite the limitations of the present study, the findings provide considerable
evidence and support for the ecological model in that park and recreation departments
have the opportunity to impact the physical activity levels of middle school students
or adolescents. One major outcome included the need for leisure and recreation
organizations to provide intramural leagues and places for youth to play sports or other
active games. In addition, the prevalence of video games as a leisure-time physical
activity among male adolescents and the popularity of individual activities such as
dance or gymnastics for female adolescents suggested targeted areas for increasing
adolescent physical activity. Active video games and dance clubs or classes could
be offered at community centers and/or social hangouts such as malls and movie

theaters. Finally, in accordance with prior research (Sallis et al., 2006; Thompson et
al., 2005), the presence of safe, attractive, and convenient locations that offer both
structured and non-structured physical activities are important for increasing physical
activity of youth. Fortunately, parks and recreation departments are in perfect positions
to provide such environmental access and opportunities to adolescents.


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