Sex moderates associations between perceptions of the physical and social environments and physical activity in youth

Am J Health Promot. Nov-Dec 2014;29(2):132-5. doi: 10.4278/Ajhp.121023-ARB-516. Epub 2013 Dec 20.


Purpose: To determine if the sex of the child moderates the relationships between perceptions of the physical/social environments and moderate to vigorous physical activity (MVPA) in youth.

Design: Cross-sectional.

Setting: North Carolina.

Subjects: A final sample of 711 children, 8 to 17 years of age, was available for analysis.

Measures: Self-reported presence of environmental factors previously identified to be associated with physical activity in youth was collected via survey. Daily MVPA was assessed via accelerometry for a minimum of 4 days.

Analysis: Multilevel linear regression models were employed, adjusted for clustering at the county and individual level. MVPA was first regressed onto sex and environmental perception items while controlling for grade and race. The interaction term between sex and environmental perception was then added to the model.

Results: A significant positive association was observed in the first models between MVPA and two items related to parent permission to (1) walk and (2) ride a bike in the neighborhood. These effects were fully moderated by sex, with males indicating "yes" on these items exhibiting 6.87 and 5.21 more minutes of MVPA (respectively) than males indicating "no."

Conclusion: Environmental perceptions appear to be related to MVPA, but this relationship is present only in males. Future research should be conducted to identify modifiable social and physical characteristics that are associated with MVPA in females.

Keywords: Health focus: physical activity; Motor Activity, Environment, Child, Accelerometry, Prevention Research. Manuscript format: applied research brief; Outcome measure: behavioral; Research purpose: descriptive; Setting: state; Strategy: built environment; Study design: nonexperimental; Target population age: youth; Target population circumstances: geographic location.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Attitude to Health
  • Child
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Environment
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Motor Activity*
  • Residence Characteristics
  • Sex Factors
  • Social Environment*