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Social-cognitive factors tied to age-related decline in physical activity in children

5 months ago

Naturally occurring changes in children’s perception of barriers to physical activity, social support and neighborhood environment may be associated with the age-related decline in physical activity during the transition from childhood to early adolescence, a new study reports.

For the study, 875 children in the 5th grade (52.6 percent female) across two school districts were recruited to identify what factors affect the decline in physical activity levels of children as they age. The sample was not random and approximately representative of the school populations in terms of ethnicities.

Participants were administered questionnaires and made to wear an Actigraph accelerometer for 7 consecutive days to determine relevant social-cognitive factors and levels of physical activity, respectively. Students were followed until the 7th grade.

On analysis, motives and beliefs were equivalent between males and females. After adjusting for gender and maturity, those who perceived parental support and those who reported having less trouble in overcoming barriers to physical activity showed less decline in physical activity. Similarly, those who reported feeling more support from friends and parents also showed less decline in physical activity compared with those who felt a large drop in support from friends.

Adjusting for race found that those with the most positive perceptions of their neighborhoods and those with the largest reductions in perceived barriers demonstrated less decline in physical activity.

Interestingly, changes in social motives and enjoyment of physical activity were not found to be related to the decline in physical activity.

The data show that a variety of personal and environmental factors, along with how the children perceive them, are associated with the age-related decline in physical activity. Thus, intervention strategies targeted towards these factors may help reduce such declines in physical activity.

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