Academic journal article Journal of School Health

Do Perceived Cues, Benefits, and Barriers to Physical Activity Differ between Male and Female Adolescents?

Academic journal article Journal of School Health

Do Perceived Cues, Benefits, and Barriers to Physical Activity Differ between Male and Female Adolescents?

Article excerpt

The three leading causes of death in the United States are coronary heart disease (CHD), cancer, and stroke, (1) Many behavioral risk factors associated with these diseases develop in childhood and persist into adolescence and adulthood. (2,3) Fortunately, a sizeable percentage of premature deaths in these areas can be averted through healthy lifestyle changes, such as adoption of regular physical activity. (4,5) Unfortunately, despite numerous awareness campaigns highlighting the benefits of regular physical activity, data suggest most adults and children are not active enough to positively affect their health. (6) Nearly one-half of American youth aged 12 to 21 years are not vigorously active on a regular basis, meaning they do not engage in physical activity at least three times each week for at least 20 minutes per session which makes them sweat and breathe hard. (7)

Various studies demonstrate that promoting physical activity in children and adolescents increases youth activity and facilitates a carryover effect into adulthood. (8,9) Adolescence is the period of development when the introduction of physical activity programs is most likely to be successful and sustained into adulthood. (10) Therefore, efforts to increase physical activity have targeted this age group. (5,7) Such strategies include school intervention, noncompetitive physical activity opportunities, and parental support. (11) Nevertheless, physical activity levels decline from childhood into adolescence. Decreases in physical activity occur during grades 9 through 12. In 1999, only 29% of students in grades 9 through 12 participated in daily school physical education. (11) To increase physical activity levels, it is important to determine adolescents' perceived benefits, barriers, and cues to engaging in physical activity.

Research has found that the most common reason for adolescent physical activity is enjoyment, (12) whereas the most common barrier is "wanting to do other things with one's time." (13) Family members, peers, school programs, mass media, and organizational activities have been identified as common cues to engaging in physical activity. (14) As adolescents get older, their amount of time spent in physical activity declines, especially among females. (5,15) Such a decline is significantly more profound among female than male adolescents regardless of whether the measure involves physical activity achieved through team sports, physical education class, or leisure time. (11) Studies are needed to identify potential reasons for differences in physical activity based on gender. This study was conducted to examine if perceived cues, benefits, and barriers to physical activity differed between male and female adolescents.



A total of 249 male students from a private, all male school and 291 female students from a private, all female school served as participants in the study. Of these students, 245 males and 290 females completed usable surveys (N = 535; 99% response rate). The two schools chosen were private, single-sex high schools in Cincinnati, Ohio. Both schools had student populations mostly Caucasian and middle class.


A four-page, 49-item questionnaire was developed using components of the Health Belief Model (HBM) to examine adolescents' perceptions of and involvement in physical activity. Three components of the HBM were used to develop three subscales (perceived cues to action, perceived benefits, perceived barriers) on the survey instrument. Each subscale consisted of 12 items that required students to respond by using a seven-point Likert-type scale (1 = strongly disagree, 7 = strongly agree). The final section of the survey contained 14 demographic and background questions. Two of the 14 background items assessed vigorous physical activity and moderate physical activity.

Vigorous physical activity was assessed by asking students to report how many of the past seven days they exercised for at least 20 minutes, causing them to sweat or breathe hard. …

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