Background: Research has demonstrated that physical activity serves an important preventive function against the development of cardiovascular disease. The recognition that U.S. children are often sedentary, coupled with the observation that physical activity habits tend to persist into adulthood, has prompted the investigation of exercise determinants consistent with social learning theory. The purposes of the present study were to identify social learning variables relevant to children's exercise and to explore the longitudinal predictive value of the determinants.
Methods: Data were collected from 111 families (N = 54 girls, N = 57 boys) who were interviewed in both Phase 1 (fifth and sixth grades) and Phase 2 (eight and ninth grades) of this study. Data from mothers (N = 111) were collected during both phases; data from 80 fathers were collected at Phase 2 only.
Results: The results of simultaneous stepwise regression analyses indicated that child's enjoyment of physical activity was the only consistent predictor of physical activity during Phase 1. At Phase 2, child's exercise knowledge, mother's physical activity, and child's and mother's friend modeling/support emerged as predictors for girls. For boys, child's self-efficacy for physical activity, exercise knowledge, parental modeling, and interest in sports media were important. Longitudinally, mother's self-efficacy, barriers to exercise, enjoyment of physical activity, and child's self-efficacy for physical activity were important for girls. Only child's exercise knowledge predicted boys' physical activity. The addition of information from fathers nearly doubled the explanatory power of the predictors for both genders.
Conclusions: Socialization in the family unit exerts a tremendous influence on health-related behaviors such as exercise. The relative importance of determinants seems to differ for girls and boys and the pattern of these determinants appears to change over time.