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 Administrators 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., 60 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: email@example.com Phone: (859)-257-5311 Fax: (859)-323-1090. 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, 61 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). 62 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 63 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. Method Participants 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 % Gender Male 469 55.1% 55.1% Gender 382 44.9% 100.0% Age 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% 64 Table 1. Participant Characteristics (N=851) (continued) Variable N % Cumulative % Age 15 10 1.2% 98.0% Unknown 15 1.8% 99.8% Grade 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 65 Table 2. Participant Leisure Activity Engagement (N=846) 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. 66 Results 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 skateboarding/rollerblading. 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 67 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 68 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 69 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. 70 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 71 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. Conclusion 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 72 theaters. 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