Relation of Children's Perception of their Social and Physical Environments to Physical Activity Levels: A Mixed Methodology Approach

Grants and Contracts Details


Background/Significance: Physical inactivity is a major contributor to youth and adult obesity (COC, 2004). Therefore, physical activity promotion, coupled with a firmer understanding of what facilitates children engaging in health-enhancing physical activity, is warranted. The social ecological model (Sallis & Owen, 1997) suggests that physical activity behaviors are influenced from the interaction of individual and environmental (both physical and social) factors. Fundamentally, the interplay among these factors determines whether children are sufficiently active. Much of our understanding of the influences of children's physical activity behavior is derived solely from self-reported and/or objective measures of activity and the environment. Yet, when attempting to develop effective community-based interventions, a critical process in program development is to obtain the "stories" behind the behavior from the target audience (e.g., how children see themselves when participating in physical activity). The purpose of this study is to examine and describe the relationships between children's perceptions of their access to physical activity environments, their physical activity preferences and attitudes, social influences from family and peers, and objectively measured physical activity levels. Additionally, the contextual characteristics and socialization of children's physical activity behaviors will be qualitatively illustrated and described by evaluating self-taken photographs of their physical activity. Experimental Design & Methodology: Participants will be 300 children, aged 9-12, and their parents/guardians recruited from six elementary schools in the southern United States. Two questionnaires will be administered to measure students' perceived access to physical activity and physical activity attitudes. Social influences will be measured utilizing previously developed questionnaires. Parental (mothers and fathers) social support and peer social support will be collected. Physical activity levels will be assessed via questionnaire and utilizing pedometers (six days). Qualitative analyses of physical activity experiences will be conducted through the use of photographs. Disposable cameras will be provided to a random sample of 50 children (25 girls). Participants will take photographs of: a) where they are physically active (e.g., home, neighborhood, school); b) with whom they are physically active (e.g., friends, siblings, parents); and c) in ~ types of activities they are involved (e.g., sports, free play). Analytical approaches will follow the theoretical premise of the social ecological model that specifies the interrelationships among individual and environmental factors. Structural equation modeling will be used to test the cross-sectional relationships. Latent variables will be specified for the constructs (e.g., physical activity, attitudes, social influences, environmental access) in accordance with prior research (Beets & Foley, in press; Beets, Vogel, Forlaw, Pitetti, & Cardinal, 2006). Visual analysis and grounded theory will be used to establish themes observed in the photographs and interviews. Educational/Scholarly Implications: Results will show relationships between children's perceptions of their access to physical activity environments, their physical activity preferences and attitudes, social influences, and objectively measured physical activity levels. The photographs will help researchers further understand children's perceptions of their play spaces, social networks, and activity related opportunities (e.g., equipment). The study will lead to a school-based intervention that focuses on developing awareness and skills to identify physical activity opportunities and sociallphysical environmental influences corresponding to health-enhancing levels of physical activity, coupled with a family-based intervention that utilizes strategies to facilitate opportunities for children to be physically active with their family in the home and neighborhood environment.
Effective start/end date4/1/083/31/09


  • American Alliance for Health Physical Education Recreation and Dance: $9,550.00


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