Adolescent Girls' Perceived Barriers to Participation in Physical Activity

Article excerpt

Establishing patterns of physical activity during childhood and adolescence is important for immediate gains in health and well-being and to develop positive behaviors that can be deployed throughout the life course. Concern about increased levels of childhood overweight and obesity and whether this pattern will continue into adolescence underscores the importance of being physically active (Dishman, Sallis, & Orenstein, 1985; Sallis, Prochaska, & Taylor, 2000; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1996). However, studies report a decline in physical activity levels during adolescence (Allison, Dwyer, & Makin, 1999a, b; Frankish, Milligan, & Reid, 1998). This decline occurs more sharply among girls, with girls being less physically active than boys (Allison & Adlaf, 1997; Allison et al., 1999b; Garcia, Pender, Antonakos, & Ronis, 1998; Higgins, Gaul, Gibbons, & Van Gyn, 2003; Sallis et al., 2000; Trost et al., 2002). Thus, it is important to understand what makes it difficult for adolescent girls to participate in physical activity.

Quantitative and qualitative studies have examined barriers and other factors that influence physical activity among adolescent girls. Quantitative studies have focused on correlates and predictors of physical activity, exercise, and sport such as gender (Frankish et al., 1998; Higgins et al., 2003; Sallis et al., 2000), age (Frankish et al., 1998; Higgins et al., 2003; Sallis et al., 2000), achievement orientation (Sallis et al., 2000), perceived competence (Sallis et al., 2000), lack of motivation (Robbins, Pender, & Kazanis, 2003; Saxena, Borzekowski, & Rickert, 2002; Sherwood & Jeffery, 2000; Tappe, Duda, & Ehrnwald, 1989), social support (Frankish et al., 1998), lack of time (Allison et al., 1999b; Robbins et al., 2003; Saxena et al., 2002; Tappe et al., 1989; Tergerson & King, 2002), and previous involvement in physical activity or community sports (Sallis et al., 2000). Qualitative studies of barriers to physical activity among adolescent girls suggest that the barriers are specific to the adolescent stage (Coakley & White, 1992; Culp, 1998; Harris, 1993; Humbert, 1995; Sleap & Wormald, 2001). For example, adolescent girls reported barriers such as: gender roles, peer influence, and self-concept (Culp, 1998); parents and opposite-sex friends (Coakley & White, 1992); lack of self-confidence (Culp, 1998; Sleap & Wormald, 2001); and lack of time (Sleap & Wormald, 2001). Also, they reported their physical education classes involve uncomfortable physical exertion (Harris, 1993) and ridicule and embarrassment (Humbert, 1995).

The purpose of this study was to explore perceived barriers to physical activity participation among adolescent girls who live in a large ethnoracially and socioeconomically diverse city. While other studies (Robbins et al., 2003; Saxena et al., 2002; Tappe et al., 1989) have examined the issue of barriers to physical activity among adolescent girls, the present study is different in that multi-ethnic groups of adolescent girls participated in focus groups to provide indepth qualitative data. This study is one component of a comprehensive assessment of barriers to physical activity among Canadian youth conducted by this research team. Also, results of this study were to be used to plan other components such as interviews with adolescents and a national survey of youth aged 13-18.



During the recruitment phase, interested adolescents completed a background information survey consisting of questions regarding their gender, age, current grade, and ethnoracial origin. Seventy-three adolescent girls from four secondary schools in different regions of Toronto participated in I of 7 focus group sessions. Toronto has a population of approximately 2.4 million which includes over 90 ethnocultural groups (City of Toronto, n.d.). Participants were selected to ensure ethnocultural diversity in each session. …


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