Does Participation in Organized Sports Predict Future Physical Activity for Adolescents from Diverse Economic Backgrounds?

Stephanie Walters, Daheia J. Barr-Anderson, Melanie Wall, Dianne Neumark-Sztainer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

55 Scopus citations


Purpose: To examine cross-sectional and longitudinal associations between socioeconomic status (SES), gender, sports participation and moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) in adolescents. Methods: Project EAT (Eating Among Teens), a population-based longitudinal study followed a socioeconomically and ethnically diverse sample of 1709 adolescents in 1998-1999 (Time 1) and 2003-2004 (Time 2). Mixed model regression analyses were used to examine longitudinal trends in MVPA as a function of SES and previous sports involvement. Results: For both genders, participation in organized sports and weekly hours of MVPA were positively associated with SES. On average, MVPA decreased between high school and young adulthood for both genders. Adolescents who participated in sports during high school showed a steeper decline in weekly hours of MVPA than their non-sports-participating counterparts. SES had a significant moderating effect on the change in MVPA over time for boys who participated in organized sports, with low SES boys showing a steeper decline in MVPA between time periods than higher SES boys. Although on average, a statistically significant difference in MVPA between previous sports participants and nonparticipants remained at Time 2, for all SES groups and both genders, the gap between hours of MVPA was either overcome or significantly narrowed by young adulthood. Conclusions: Increased dependence on organized sports for MVPA may be insufficient to meet the needs of youth following high school, especially for low SES youth. Designing physical activity promotions that reach and address the unique needs of lower SES youth and families is a public health priority.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)268-274
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Adolescent Health
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2009

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This study was developed when the principal author was a fellow at the University of Minnesota, and was supported by grant R40-MC00310 (PI: Neumark-Sztainer) from the Maternal and Child Health Bureau (Title V, Social Security Act), Health Resources and Services Administration, Department of Health and Human Services, and by the Adolescent Health Protection Research Training grant number T01-DP000112 (PI: Bearinger) from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Department of Health and Human Services and by the Leadership Education in Adolescent Health (PI: Singh); DHHS, HRSA Grant # T71-MC-00006.


  • Adolescents and young adults
  • Organized sports
  • Physical activity
  • SES disparities


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