Physical activity in US youth: effect of race/ethnicity, age, gender, and weight status

Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2010 Dec;42(12):2211-21. doi: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e3181e1fba9.


Purpose: To describe physical activity (PA) levels by race/ethnicity, age, gender, and weight status in a representative sample of US youth.

Methods: Cross-sectional data from the 2003-2004 and 2005-2006 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey were combined and analyzed. Youth aged 6-19 yr with at least four 10-h days of PA measured by accelerometry were included (n = 3106). Outcomes included mean counts per minute and minutes spent in moderate-to-vigorous PA (MVPA).

Results: Among the groups, the 6- to 11-yr-olds spent more time (88 min·d) in MVPA than the 12- to 15-yr-olds (33 min·d) and 16- to 19-yr-olds (26 min·d; P < 0.001 for both). Females spent fewer minutes per day in MVPA than males (P < 0.001). Overall, obese youth spent 16 fewer minutes per day in MVPA than normal-weight youth. However, non-Hispanic white males spent three to four fewer minutes per day in vigorous PA than Mexican American (MA; P = 0.004) and non-Hispanic black (P < 0.001) males but had lower obesity rates and obese 12- to 15-yr-old MA recorded similar minutes in MVPA per day as normal-weight MA (P > 0.050). There was a significant three-way age-body mass index-race/ethnicity interaction for mean minutes per day in MVPA (P < 0.001). Adjustment for total energy intake did not qualitatively alter these results.

Conclusions: Females and older youth were the least active groups. Obese youth were generally less active, but this did not hold uniformly across race/ethnic groups. Cultural or biological factors could moderate the association between PA and obesity in youth.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Actigraphy / instrumentation
  • Adolescent
  • African Continental Ancestry Group / statistics & numerical data
  • Age Factors
  • Anthropometry
  • Body Mass Index
  • Body Weight / ethnology
  • Body Weight / physiology*
  • Child
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • European Continental Ancestry Group / statistics & numerical data
  • Exercise*
  • Female
  • Hispanic Americans / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Nutrition Surveys
  • Sex Factors
  • United States
  • Young Adult