National health initiatives have become focused on the promotion of healthy living as a best practices method to reduce risk factors for disease. These efforts have emphasized an increase in physical activity (PA) and fitness as key methods to reduce risk, especially for overweight and obesity (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], 2008, 2010a; Department of Health and Human Services, 2007; Floriani & Kennedy, 2007; Fox, 2004; Goran & Treuth, 2001; Hills, King, & Armstrong, 2007; Nowicki & Flodmark, 2007; Sothern, 2004; Steinbeck, 2001). As a result, children are encouraged to become involved in PA or recreational and sport activities at a much younger age.
PA levels of children and adolescents are still below the levels established in Healthy People 2010 (2001). According to the 1990 Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS), Heath and colleagues (1994) reported that approximately 37% of all students in grades 9 through 12 engaged in vigorous physical activity for at least 20 minutes three or more times per week. By the 1997 survey, the percentage of participation had increased to 63.8% (Pratt, Macera, & Blanton, 1999). Participation was higher for males than females (72.3% versus 53.5%) and demonstrated differences in ethnic and racial groups. Changes in PA reported in 9th through 12th grades in the YRBS from 1991–2009 indicated no changes in percentages meeting the recommended levels of PA (34.7%), or attendance at physical education classes at least one day per week (56.4%). Computer use more than 3 hours daily did increase between 2003 and 2009 (22.1 to 24.9 %), while television watching more than three hours daily decreased from 1999 to 2009 (42.8 to 32.8%) (CDC, 2010a).
Current estimates suggest that between 20 and 30 million youth aged 5 to 17 years participate in community-sponsored athletic programs (Adirim & Cheng, 2003; Patel & Nelson, 2000); however, Damore (2002) suggests that suburban preschool and school-aged children are more active than urban children in the same age groups. These rates did not include the elementary ages or community programs. A Fact Sheet from the World Health Organization suggests that PA is low in all children, but declines from age 11 to age 15 years due to the increasingly sedentary nature of many forms of recreation, modes of transportation, and increasing urbanization (World Health Organization, 2007).
Early participation in exercise and sports extends a physically active and athletic life over many decades. Research has demonstrated that more PA in adolescence increases a sense of psychological well-being in adults, and may improve self-rating of physical health in adulthood (Sacker & Cable, 2006). Additionally, higher levels of PA from youth to adulthood are associated with lower risk of abdominal obesity in women (Yang, Telama, Viikari, & Raitakari, 2006), while decreasing levels of PA are related to ...