Socioeconomic Inequities in Youth Participation in Physical Activity and Sports

Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2021 Jun 29;18(13):6946. doi: 10.3390/ijerph18136946.


Access to opportunities for physical activity and sports, and therefore potential benefits of participation, are distributed inequitably. The aims of this study were to describe and compare youth experiences related to sport and physical activity by socioeconomic factors. A cross-sectional survey was conducted of students in 5-12th grades in King County, Washington, USA. Students were asked about physical activity and sports experiences and about demographic factors including family affluence, which was categorized as low, medium, and high. Participants were 1038 youth (50% girls, 58% non-White, and 32% from homes where languages other than English are spoken). Children from low-affluence families reported fewer days/week of physical activity, fewer sports sampled, and lower rates of ever playing sports. Greater proportions of children from low-affluence families reported these barriers to sports: (1) don't want to get hurt, (2) don't feel welcome on teams, (3) too expensive, and (4) transportation. Middle school children from high-affluence families had three times higher odds of meeting physical activity recommendations, and high-affluence high schoolers had three times higher odds of ever participating in sports compared to peers from low-affluence families. Socioeconomic status was inversely associated with outcomes related to youth physical activity and sports participation. The disproportionately reported barriers to sports participation are modifiable, and cross-sector solutions can help promote play equity.

Keywords: affluence; children; inequity; physical activity; sports.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Exercise*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Texas
  • Washington