Gender Differences in Physical Activity and Determinants of Physical Activity in Rural Fifth Grade Children

By Trost, Stewart G.; Pate, Russell R. et al. | Journal of School Health, April 1996 | Go to article overview

Gender Differences in Physical Activity and Determinants of Physical Activity in Rural Fifth Grade Children


Trost, Stewart G., Pate, Russell R., Dowda, Marsha, Saunders, Ruth, Ward, Dianne S., Felton, Gwen, Journal of School Health


Regular physical activity and adequate levels of physical fitness constitute important components of a healthy lifestyle. Among adults, higher levels of physical activity and physical fitness have been associated with lower rates of morbidity and mortality from a host of chronic degenerative diseases.[1] Among children and adolescents, the association between physical activity and health is less clear. Evidence suggests physical activity and fitness are related inversely to a number of cardiovascular disease risk factors including elevated blood lipids,[2,3] hypertension,[4] obesity,[5,6] and cigarette smoking.[7] More importantly, because many of the risk factors for cardiovascular disease track from childhood into adulthood,[8,9] physical activity and physical fitness in youth are important concerns in the primary prevention of chronic disease.

Despite the recognized health benefits of regular physical activity, sizeable percentages of U.S. children and adolescents fail to meet established guidelines for participation in physical activity.[10,11] Low levels of physical activity appear to be particularly prevalent among preadolescent and adolescent girls. Results from the 1990 Youth Risk Behavior Survey indicated only 25% of high school-aged girls compared to 50% of boys reported participation in vigorous physical activity three or more days per week. Furthermore, only 19% of U.S. female high school students reported attending physical education classes on a daily basis.[10]

Presently, the biological, psychosocial, and environmental factors that contribute to gender differences in physical activity are not well understood. Although previous investigations have identified parental support, self-efficacy, exercise intention, social influence, physical fitness, and access to equipment and facilities[12,13] as factors associated with, or predictive of, physical activity behavior in youth, it is not known to what extent, if any, these variables can account for gender differences in physical activity. In addition, no previous investigation has examined gender differences in physical activity and determinants of physical activity in a sample of rural, predominantly African-American pre-adolescent children. This study determined if gender differences in physical activity in fifth grade children could be accounted for by differences in selected physiologic, psychosocial, and environmental determinants of physical activity behavior.

METHODS

Subjects

Subjects for the study were 365 fifth grade students from three elementary schools and two intermediate schools in rural South Carolina. The study group was 72.9% African-American, 25.5% White, and 1.6% unreported. Of the 365 students, 179 were male and 186 were female. Prior to participation in the study, written informed consent was obtained from each participant and his or her primary guardian. The study was approved by the University of South Carolina Institutional Review Board.

Measurement of Physical Activity

Physical activity during after-school hours was assessed using the Previous Day Physical Activity Recall (PDPAR). This self-report instrument makes use of a standardized form organized into 17, 30-minute blocks beginning at 3 pm and continuing through 11:30 pm. Thirty-five common activities were listed on the form and each student entered the main activity in which he or she participated during each of the 30-minute time periods on the previous day. For each block, the student rated the intensity of the designated activity as very light, light, medium, or hard.

Very light activities were described as those requiring slow breathing with little or no movement. Light activities were described as those requiring normal breathing and regular movement. Medium activities were described as those requiring increased breathing and moderate movement. [TABULAR DATA FOR TABLE 1 OMITTED] Hard activities were described as those requiring hard breathing and moving quickly. …

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