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The relative influence of demographic, individual, social, and environmental factors on physical activity among boys and girls

Carrie D Patnode1*, Leslie A Lytle2, Darin J Erickson2, John R Sirard3, Daheia Barr-Anderson4 and Mary Story2

Author Affiliations

1 Center for Health Research, Kaiser Permanente Northwest, 3800 N. Interstate Avenue, Portland, OR, 97227, USA

2 School of Public Health, University of Minnesota, 1300 S. Second Street, Suite 300, Minneapolis, MN, 55454, USA

3 Curry School of Education, University of Virginia, 405 Emmet Street, Charlottesville, VA, 22904, USA

4 School of Kinesiology, University of Minnesota, 1900 University Ave SE, Minneapolis, MN, 55455, USA

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International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity 2010, 7:79  doi:10.1186/1479-5868-7-79

Published: 3 November 2010



This study aimed to evaluate the associations of selected demographic, individual, social, and environmental factors with moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) in a sample of children and adolescents.


MVPA was assessed among youth (n = 294) 10-17-years-old using the ActiGraph accelerometer. Youth completed measures of demographic and individual variables related to physical activity (PA), perceived social support by parents and peers, and perceived neighborhood characteristics. Parents completed the long-form of the International Physical Activity Questionnaire. The Physical Activity and Media Inventory was used to measure the home environment and Geographical Information Systems software was used to measure the physical neighborhood environment. Bivariate correlations and hierarchical multiple regression were conducted stratified by gender.


Boys participated in significantly more MVPA than girls. In hierarchical analyses, peer support, home PA equipment, and temperature were significantly associated with MVPA among boys whereas distance to the school they attended was associated with MVPA among girls. The final models accounted for 25% and 15% of the variance in MVPA among boys and girls, respectively.


Important differences exist among the individual, social, and environmental factors related to MVPA between boys and girls. Boys' levels of activity appear to be influenced by factors closely linked to unstructured and social types of activities whereas girls' activities relate to internal and external barriers as well as their proximity to their schools. The prospective contribution of these important individual, social, and environmental factors to changes in MVPA among children and adolescents remains to be determined.