Physical activity disparities in heterosexual and sexual minority youth ages 12-22 years old: roles of childhood gender nonconformity and athletic self-esteem

Ann Behav Med. 2014 Feb;47(1):17-27. doi: 10.1007/s12160-013-9570-y.


Background: Physical activity is an important health determinant. Little is known about sexual orientation differences in physical activity and their psychosocial determinants.

Purpose: The aim of this study is to examine adolescent and young adult hours/week of moderate/vigorous physical activity (MVPA) and team sports participation by sexual orientation and investigate contributions of gender nonconformity and low athletic self-esteem to possible sexual orientation differences.

Methods: Analysis of data from 5,272 males and 7,507 females from 1999 to 2005 waves of the US Growing Up Today Study (ages 12-22 years).

Results: Sexual minorities (i.e., lesbian, gay, bisexual, mostly heterosexual) reported 1.21-2.62 h/week less MVPA (p < 0.01) and were 46-76 % less likely to participate in team sports than same-gender heterosexuals. Gender nonconformity and athletic self-esteem accounted for 46-100 % of sexual orientation MVPA differences.

Conclusions: Physical activity contexts should be modified to welcome sexual minority males and females. Targeting intolerance of gender nonconformity and fostering athletic self-esteem may mitigate sexual orientation MVPA disparities.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Exercise / psychology*
  • Female
  • Gender Identity*
  • Heterosexuality / psychology*
  • Homosexuality / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Motor Activity*
  • Self Concept*
  • Sports / psychology*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Young Adult