Can differences in physical activity by socio-economic status in European adolescents be explained by differences in psychosocial correlates? A mediation analysis within the HELENA (Healthy Lifestyle in Europe by Nutrition in Adolescence) study

Public Health Nutr. 2012 Nov;15(11):2100-9. doi: 10.1017/S1368980012001036. Epub 2012 Apr 12.


Objective: Socio-economic status (SES) has been positively associated with physical activity (PA) levels in adolescents. In order to tackle these social inequalities, information is needed about the underlying mechanisms of this association. The present study aimed to investigate the potential mediating role of psychosocial correlates of PA on the relationship between SES and PA in European adolescents.

Design: Cross-sectional study testing the mediating role of psychosocial correlates in the SES-PA association using the product-of-coefficients test of MacKinnon.

Setting: Ten European cities in nine different countries, the HELENA (Healthy Lifestyle in Europe by Nutrition in Adolescence) Study.

Subjects: Adolescents (n 2780) aged 12·5-17·49 years self-reported on PA (moderate-to-vigorous intensity PA and total PA), SES indicators (education of the mother and Family Affluence Scale) and psychosocial correlates of PA (stage of change, attitudes, awareness, modelling, social support, self-efficacy, benefits, barriers and environmental correlates).

Results: SES (Family Affluence Scale) was significantly associated with moderate-to-vigorous intensity PA. According to single-mediator models, this association was significantly mediated by stage of change (t = 3·6, P ≤ 0·001), awareness (t = 2·7, 0·001 < P ≤ 0·01), modelling (t = 4·8, P ≤ 0·001), self-efficacy (t = 2·5, 0·01<P ≤ 0·05), barriers (t = 2·7, 0·001 < P ≤ 0·01) and environmental (t = 3·0, 0·001 < P ≤ 0·01) correlates of PA. The multiple-mediators model showed that the mediating role of the combination of these psychosocial correlates was also significant (t = 6·2, P ≤ 0·001).

Conclusions: Adolescents with low family wealth scored lower on stage of change, awareness, modelling, self-efficacy and environmental correlates of PA, and higher on PA barriers, which in turn resulted in lower levels of moderate-to-vigorous PA. Future interventions should target these individual and environmental constructs in order to tackle and intervene on social inequalities in PA among adolescents.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Awareness
  • Child
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Europe
  • Exercise / psychology*
  • Female
  • Health Behavior*
  • Humans
  • Intention
  • Life Style*
  • Male
  • Self Efficacy
  • Self Report
  • Social Class*
  • Social Support
  • Socioeconomic Factors