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Middle School Students’ Leisure Activity Engagement: Implications for Park and Recreation Administrators

Heather E. Erwin


Physical activity participation has been found to decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease, anxiety, and depression (Strong et al., 2005); yet it declines drastically throughout adolescence (Caspersen, Pereira, & Curran, 2000). Therefore, it is important to develop and establish programs that encourage physical activity participation for youth. Several programs endorsing physical activity have been grounded in the ecological model (McLeroy, Bibeau, Steckler, & Glanz, 1988; Sallis et al., 2006), which suggests that intrapersonal, interpersonal/cultural, organizational, physical environmental, and policy factors influence physical activity. Understanding the ecological model and in which activities adolescents engage will guide organizations in providing programs that support youth participation in the recommended levels of physical activity.

The purpose of this study was to identify the most prevalent leisure activities of adolescents and describe relationships between demographic variables and leisure activity engagement. Middle-school participants (n=851) from a county in the Southeastern United States reported their leisure activities. Results indicated that these adolescents engaged most often in sedentary leisure activities; however, the most frequently cited physical activities were playing sports with friends, walking/jogging/running, and organized sports. While gender, socioeconomic status, and school type were significant contributors to adolescent physical activity, gender was the most influential demographic variable on all types of leisure.

Based upon previous research and findings from this study, to promote leisure-time physical activity in this population, park and recreation departments should: (a) consider active video games; (b) assimilate peers into leisure events (e.g., social support); (c) continue providing a variety of intramural programs for all ages; and (d) offer multiple locations for youth to play sports or other active games (e.g., environmental factors). In addition, organizations should promote physical activity through incentive programs, social events, and trainings for leaders. Findings from this study support the ecological model because intrapersonal factors (e.g., gender, Socioeconomic Status) influenced participation in select physical activities, high percentages of participants were engaged in activities with friends (e.g., interpersonal factors), and the physical environment was influenced by the parks and recreation department that currently provided several leisure-time physical activities for these youth. This evidence suggests that well-designed programs provided by park and recreation departments have potential to positively affect the physical activity levels of middle school students.?


recreation, physical activity, adolescent, environment

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