DataBank Indicator

Download Report

As of 2015, fewer than three in ten high school students met current recommendations for level of physical activity.

Importance

Regular physical activity has both short- and long-term health benefits. For adolescents, participation in sports, physical education classes, or any other type of regular exercise helps to build and maintain healthy bones and muscles, controls weight, and has positive psychological benefits.[1] Additionally, regular participation in a range of physical activities, especially where parents are also involved, is associated with a decreased likelihood of adopting risky adolescent behaviors, such as violence and drug use, and better self-esteem and grades.[2]

Adolescents who exercise also improve their long-term health. Participation in physical activity decreases the risk of developing diabetes, heart disease, and hypertension,[3] and, when maintained over the long term, is associated with a higher perceived health-related quality of life among adolescents.[4] Additionally, people who are active in their youth tend to remain active and physically fit as adults.[5]

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recommends that young people ages 6-17 engage for 60 minutes daily in a level of physical activity that increases heart rate and causes hard breathing.[6]

Trends

In 2005, HHS redefined the recommended levels of physical activity, from 20 minutes of vigorous activity at least three days per week, to 60 minutes of activity (that includes vigorous exercise some of the time) at least five days per week.[7] Between 1993 and 2005, the percentage of high school students meeting the former level of recommended physical activity remained fairly steady, ranging between 63 and 69 percent. Between 2005 and 2009, about one-third of high school students met the revised recommended levels of physical activity, with no significant changes over that time period. The HHS guideline was changed once again in 2008, to the current recommendation of 60 minutes of physical activity daily. From 2011 to 2015, fewer than three in ten students met the recommendation, with no significant changes over that time period.[8] (Figure 1)

Differences by Gender

A much higher percentage of adolescent males participate in vigorous physical activity than do their female peers. Within all racial and ethnic subgroups, levels for males are between 14 and 20 percentage points higher than those for females. (Appendix 1) Differences between males and females are also significant at all grade levels. (Figure 2)

Differences by Race and Hispanic Origin[9]

White students are more likely than black or Hispanic youth to meet recommended levels of physical activity. In 2015, 29 percent of white students met recommended levels, compared with 24 and 25 percent of black and Hispanic youth, respectively. Among males, white students were the most likely to meet the recommended levels of physical activity, and Hispanics were slightly more likely than blacks to meet recommended levels (39, 34, and 31 percent, respectively). For females, whites were also the most likely to meet the recommended levels of physical activity, but black females were slightly more likely than Hispanic females to meet recommended levels (20, 17, and 15 percent, respectively). (Figure 3)

Differences by grade

In 2015, ninth- and tenth-graders were more likely than eleventh- and twelfth-graders to get the recommended amount of physical activity (31 and 28 percent, versus 25 and 24 percent, respectively). (Appendix 1) This difference was evident across genders: 12th-grade males and females were 8 and 7 percentage points, respectively, less likely than their 9th-grade counterparts to meet physical activity recommendations. (Figure 2)

State and Local Estimates

2015 estimates of vigorous physical activity among high school students are available for select states and cities from the Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) (See Table 96)

For all states, 2011/2012 estimates of the number of days in the past week children (ages 6 to 17) engaged in vigorous activity for at least 20 minutes are available from the National Survey for Children’s Health, and through the KIDS COUNT Data Center.

International Estimates

International estimates of physical activity for youth ages 11, 13, and 15 are available for 2013/2014, for countries participating in the Health Behavior of School-Aged Children Survey.

National Goals

Through its Healthy People 2020 initiative, the federal government has set a national goal to increase the number of adolescents who meet current federal physical activity guidelines for aerobic physical activity, from the 2011 level of 29 percent, to 32 percent by 2020. Additional goals are to increase the proportion of public and private schools that require daily physical education for all students and that require or recommend recess.

More information is available here. (Goals PA-3-7)

What Works to Make Progress on This Indicator

Related Indicators

Definition

As used here, vigorous physical activity refers to activities that caused increased heart rate and hard breathing some of the time, for a total of 60 minutes a day, on all seven days preceding the survey.

Data Sources

 

Data for 2011-2015: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (2016). 1991-2015 High School Youth Risk Behavior Survey Data. Accessed on 12/23/2016. Retrieved from http://nccd.cdc.gov/youthonline/.

Data for 1993-2009: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2010). Youth risk behavior surveillance: United States {various years]. MMWR Surveillance Summaries, 44:59. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/mmwr_ss/ss_pvol.html

Raw Data Source

Youth Risk Behavior Survey

http://www.cdc.gov/nccdphp/dash/yrbs/index.htm

 

Appendix 1 – Percentage of Students in Grades 9 through 121 who Met Currently Recommendations for Physical Activity2: Selected Years, 1993-2015

1993 1995 1997 1999 2001 2003 2005 2005* 2007* 2009* 2011** 2013** 2015**
All Students 65.8 63.7 63.8 64.7 64.6 62.6 68.7 35.8 34.7 37.0 28.7 27.1 27.1
Race/Ethnicity3
Non-Hispanic White 67.7 67.0 66.8 67.4 66.5 65.2 70.2 38.7 37.0 39.9 30.4 28.2 29.0
Non-Hispanic Black 60.0 53.2 53.9 55.6 59.7 54.8 62.0 29.5 31.1 32.6 26.0 26.3 24.2
Hispanic 59.4 57.3 60.4 60.5 60.5 59.3 69.4 32.9 30.2 33.1 26.5 25.5 24.6
Grade
9 74.5 71.5 72.7 72.5 71.9 68.5 73.5 36.9 38.1 39.7 30.7 30.4 31.0
10 69.5 69.3 65.9 64.7 67.0 64.9 70.5 38.5 34.8 39.3 30.8 27.6 27.8
11 62.5 60.3 60.0 58.2 61.3 60.1 67.4 34.4 34.8 36.4 27.3 25.5 25.3
12 57.8 54.9 57.5 61.4 55.5 55.0 61.8 32.9 29.5 31.6 25.1 24.3 23.5
Male 74.7 74.4 72.3 72.3 72.6 70.0 75.8 43.8 43.7 45.6 38.3 36.6 36.0
Race/Ethnicity3
Non-Hispanic White 75.9 76.0 73.4 74.6 73.7 71.9 77.0 46.9 46.1 47.3 40.4 37.5 38.5
Non-Hispanic Black 71.4 68.1 67.1 64.6 72.4 65.0 71.7 38.2 41.3 43.3 35.2 37.2 30.8
Hispanic 68.8 69.7 69.2 71.6 68.8 66.7 76.0 39.0 38.6 41.3 35.6 33.9 34.2
Grade
9 81.2 79.9 78.7 77.0 77.1 73.1 78.4 42.8 44.4 47.5 38.8 40.5 40.1
10 77.2 78.6 74.3 73.3 74.0 71.5 77.8 46.8 45.1 47.4 42.6 34.6 36.7
11 71.4 72.3 68.9 67.1 72.2 70.4 74.2 43.8 45.2 46.2 36.2 37.0 34.3
12 69.8 67.2 68.4 70.7 66.1 63.7 71.9 41.9 38.7 40.4 34.9 33.5 32.6
1993 1995 1997 1999 2001 2003 2005 2005* 2007* 2009* 2011** 2013** 2015**
Female 56.2 52.1 53.5 57.1 57.0 55.0 61.5 27.8 25.6 27.7 18.5 17.7 17.7
Race/Ethnicity3
Non-Hispanic White 58.8 56.7 58.4 59.7 59.8 58.1 63.3 30.2 27.9 31.3 19.7 18.7 19.5
Non-Hispanic Black 48.8 41.3 41.3 47.2 47.8 44.9 53.1 21.3 21.0 21.9 16.9 16.0 16.6
Hispanic 50.0 45.2 49.9 49.5 52.4 51.8 62.6 26.5 21.9 24.9 16.9 17.4 14.7
Grade
9 67.5 61.6 66.1 68.0 67.3 63.6 68.4 30.8 31.5 30.8 22.2 20.1 20.9
10 61.1 59.3 55.7 56.2 60.1 58.2 63.0 30.0 24.4 30.5 18.1 20.5 19.0
11 52.7 47.2 49.4 49.2 50.8 49.4 60.7 25.1 24.6 26.0 18.0 14.4 16.0
12 45.4 42.4 43.6 52.3 45.4 46.4 51.7 24.0 20.6 22.4 14.9 15.3 14.3
* Recommendations for physical activity were revised in 2005 to encompass activities that increased heart rate and caused hard breathing some of the time for a total of 60 minutes/day on at least five of the seven days preceding the survey.

** Recommendations for physical activity were revised in 2008 to encompass activities that increased heart rate and caused hard breathing some of the time for a total of 60 minutes/day on all seven days preceding the survey.

1 Estimates do not include youth who dropped out of school and therefore may not reflect the total population in this age group. Students from Oregon, Washington, and Minnesota were not included in the survey in any year. Additionally, students from Colorado, Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, New Jersey, Ohio, Texas, Utah, and Wisconsin were not included in the 2015 survey.

2 The recommendations for physical activity changed twice since 1993: 1993-2005 recommendations specified activities that caused sweating and hard breathing for at least 20 minutes on at least three of the seven days preceding the survey; 2005-2011 recommendations specified activities that increased heart rate and caused hard breathing some of the time for a total of 60 minutes/day on at least five of the seven days preceding the survey; 2011-2015 recommendations specified activities that increased heart rate and caused hard breathing some of the time for a total of 60 minutes/day on all seven days preceding the survey.

3 Race/ethnicity estimates from 1999 and later are not directly comparable to earlier years, due to federal changes in race definitions. In surveys conducted in 1999 and later, respondents were allowed to select more than one race. Estimates presented include only respondents who selected one category.

Sources: Data for 2011-2015: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (2016). 1991-2015 High School Youth Risk Behavior Survey Data. Accessed on 12/23/2016. Retrieved from http://nccd.cdc.gov/youthonline/.

Data for 1993-2009: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2010). Youth risk behavior surveillance: United States {various years]. MMWR Surveillance Summaries, 44:59. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/mmwr_ss/ss_pvol.html.

 

Endnotes


[1]Division of Adolescent and School Health, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  (November 2008).  Physical activity and the health of young people. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/HealthyYouth/physicalactivity/pdf/facts.pdf

[2]Nelson, M. C., & Gordon-Larsen, P. (2006). Physical activity and sedentary behavior patterns are associated with selected adolescent health risk behaviors. Pediatrics, 117(4), 1281-1290.

[3]Stephens, M.  (2002) Children, physical activity, and public health: Another call to action. American Family Physician.  Retrieved from  http://www.aafp.org/afp/2002/0315/p1033.html

[4]Gopinath, B., Hardy, L. L., Baur, L. A., Burlutsky, G., & Mitchell, P. (2012). Physical activity and sedentary behaviors and health-related quality of life in adolescents.  Pediatrics, 130(1), e167 -e174.

[5]Dohle, S., & Wansink, B. (2013). Fit in 50 years: Participation in high school sports best predicts one’s physical activity after age 70. BMC Public Health, 13:1100. Retrieved from http://www.biomedcentral.com/1471-2458/13/1100

[6]CDC, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2008). 2008 Physical activity guidelines for Americans. Retrieved from https://health.gov/paguidelines/pdf/paguide.pdf

[7]CDC, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2008). 2008 Physical activity guidelines for Americans. Chapter 3: Active children and adolescents. Retrieved from http://www.health.gov/paguidelines/guidelines/chapter3.aspx

[8]Because of changes to the survey question starting in 2011, national YRBS prevalence estimates of physical activity in 2011 are not comparable to those reported in 2009 or earlier.  For this reason, the 2005 recommendation data are used for 2009, even though 2008 recommendation data are available.

[9]Hispanics may be any race. Estimates for whites and blacks in this report do not include Hispanics.

Suggested Citation:

Child Trends Databank. (2017). Vigorous physical activity by youth. Available at: https://www.childtrends.org/?indicators=vigorous-physical-activity-by-youth

 

Last updated: March 2017

 

Subscribe to Child Trends

Short weekly updates of recent research on children and youth.