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Perceived environment and physical activity in youth

Key Message

This study revealed the perceived importance of school environment as a key environmental component in explaining physical activity behaviour. Research interventions, programs and policies may do well to focus on the establishment and promotion of physical activity-related school physical environments to enhance the activity levels of this important target population.

Source

Fein, A.J., Plotnikoff, R.C., Wild, T.C., & Spence, J.C. (2004). Perceived environment and physical activity in youth. International Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 11(3), 135-142.

Purpose

The examination of physical environments to explain and promote physical activity is an important yet under-investigated area of research inquiry. This study explored relationships between the perceived availability of physical environmental resources and the perceived importance of these resources in relation to physical activity levels amongst youth.

METHODOLOGY and RECRUITNG
Participants for this study were recruited from four rural high schools in Alberta, Canada. The population of these schools comprised 1,595 students. Research access to classes was limited by school principals, resulting in 1,291 individuals being eligible for the study.  Of those, 914 completed the questionnaire yielding a 71% response rate.

Many studies have examined correlates of physical activity within adolescent populations (e.g., Mota & Queiros, 1996; Sallis, Simons-Morton et al., 1992; Wold & Anderssen, 1992; Gottlieb & Baker, 1986; Sallis, Prochaska, & Taylor, 2000). Results indicate that higher self-efficacy for exercise predicts increased activity levels (Kavussanu & Roberts, 1996; Allison, Dwyer&Makin, 1999).

Additionally, interpersonal influences of peers, family and physical education teachers are all positively associated with physical activity attitudes and activity levels of adolescents (McLellan, Rissel, Donnelly&Bauman, 1999; Godin&Shephard, 1986; Moon et al., 1999; Leslie et al., 1999).

These findings reinforce the need to provide and support school physical environments related to physical activity.

Evidence

The primary purpose of this study was to examine associations between perceived availability of environmental resources and perceived importance of those environmental resources in relation to physical activity. Home, neighbourhood and school environment explained 5% of the variance in physical activity.

The perceived importance of the environmental constructs explained 8% of the variance in physical activity; the school environment context was significantly associated with activity levels. The environmental resource measures and their perceived importance explained only 4% of the variance in physical activity when adjusted for key demographic, cognitive and social factors.

Findings from the hierarchical regression are congruent with results by Sallis et al. (1997), who also reported mostly non-/significant relationships between the perceived presence or absence of equipment and opportunities to be active with physical activity levels. The only significant finding in the Sallis et al. (1997) study was an association between home environment and strength exercises.

The lack of significant relationships between the perceived environment variables and physical activity may in part be that some individuals do not accurately perceive environmental resources for physical activity. Individuals who are inactive may underestimate what resources are available which may negate the effect between the environment and physical activity.

The fact that perceived importance of the school environment was related to physical activity after taking into account traditional predictors (i.e., self-efficacy, peer and family influences) suggests that future research should further investigate how school settings relate to students perceptions that this environment is an important social context for physical activity.

These results imply that policies and interventions to enhance perceptions that school environments are natural locations for engaging in physical activity deserve support and rigorous evaluation.

In summary, this study revealed the perceived importance of school environment as a key environmental component in explaining physical activity behaviour. Research interventions, programs and policies may do well to focus on the establishment and promotion of physical activity-related school physical environments to enhance the activity levels of this important target population.

Additional Information

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Benefit Statements / Outcomes

Leadership Provided By:

  • Leisure Information Network (LIN)
  • Alberta Recreation and Parks Association

On Behalf Of:

  • Canadian Parks and Recreation Association (CPRAA)

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