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Determinants of physical activity in young people

Determinants of physical activity in young people

29 June 2020
Playing Kī o rahi, a traditional Māori sport

Understanding the determinants of physical activity in young people.

Through the promotion and support of play, active recreative and sport, Sport New Zealand seeks to have the greatest impact on the wellbeing of New Zealanders by raising the levels of physical activity.

To help understand how we could have the greatest impact on young people (ages 5-17), we collaborated with Dr Anja Mizdrak at the University of Otago Department of Health, with the focus of the research being to identify who is most active, and how we can get the most inactive active.

The research used data from the Active NZ Young People’s Survey collected between January 2017 and July 2018 to understand the current state of young peoples’ physical activity, and focused on four areas:

  • Physical activity level guidelines
  • Attitudes towards physical activity
  • Barriers to physical activity
  • Activities young people want to do more of

In-depth analysis was also done to account for other factors that affect young peoples’ wellbeing such as age, gender, level of deprivation and socioeconomic characteristics.

Download the academic paper with the full set of findings (and a more detailed explanation of the methodology and analytical techniques adopted).

Key findings

Below is a summary of some of the key findings from the research.

58% of young people currently meet physical activity guidelines.  This is defined as reporting at least 7 hours (420 minutes) of physical activity per week.  This leaves 42% of young people who do not meet the guidelines.

Encouragingly, attitudes towards physical activity were positive and amongst those who do not meet the guidelines, 77% said they like physical activity, which was a consistent finding across all demographic groups.

Further, 66% of those who do not meet the guidelines said they want to do more physical activity.  This is compared with 61% of those who do meet the guidelines.

Importantly, the research findings suggest that the demand and desire for raising physical activity levels is similar but the opportunities available differ.

There are differences amongst demographic groups meeting the physical activity guidelines, with those in secondary school, girls and those from high deprivation areas being less likely to meet the guidelines.

Focusing on girls, not only are they significantly less likely to meet physical activity guidelines but they are less likely than boys to feel confident to take part in lots of different physical activities.  Girls also say that fitness is a barrier to their participation.  Could the existing opportunities for physical activity be better tailored to girls, as well as other groups who are less active?

Household income has a significant impact on the likelihood of young people meeting physical activity guidelines, with those from more deprived areas being significantly less likely to meet the guidelines.  Importantly, they are less likely to say that people in their life encourage them to take part in physical activity, whilst also being less likely to understand why taking part in physical activity is good for them.  Unsurprisingly, cost is also more likely to be a barrier amongst young people from lower income households.

The findings provide Sport New Zealand and the sector with food for thought when it comes to developing interventions for young people (and specific groups of young people).  There do seem to be some levers to pull that could help raise the levels of physical activity amongst the most inactive groups.  However, the research suggests that opportunities need to be tailored to overcome existing barriers to participation.


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