How do youth perspectives on physical activity differ across childhood?

Emily L. Mailey, Justin Montney, Mia Talley, Carlean Sanders, Jerica Garcia, Sydney Stephens, Deirdre Dlugonski

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


There is consistent evidence that physical activity declines across childhood, yet few studies have examined children’s perceptions of physical activity across a broad youth age spectrum. This study aimed to explore perceptions of physical activity among children/youth ages 5–18 years, and to examine the extent to which perceptions differed by age and/or sex. U.S. children in grades K-12 (N = 146) completed an individual interview to answer questions about physical activity (i.e. what it is, why they should do it, and facilitators/barriers from parents, friends, and school). Responses were transcribed and categorised using qualitative content analysis; frequencies of responses to each question were compared across sex and age groups. Response patterns did not differ by sex, but did differ by age. Descriptions of physical activity and preferred activities focused more on exercise and health versus informal play and fun as children aged. Older children reported more barriers from friends and school, and less co-participation with parents than the youngest children. These findings can inform future efforts to promote physical activity among youth. Interventions should work through key socialising agents (parents, friends, and schools) to promote co-participation in enjoyable activities with family and friends, and to infuse movement opportunities throughout the school day.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)908-924
Number of pages17
JournalLeisure Studies
Issue number6
StatePublished - 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.


  • Children
  • adolescents
  • barriers
  • physical activity
  • qualitative

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Tourism, Leisure and Hospitality Management


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