Public Release: 

New physical activity opinion survey demonstrates perceptions do not meet reality

Upcoming Healthy School Summit (Oct. 7,8) will discuss role of schools

Strategic Communications

RESTON, VA, October 3, 2002 -- How accurate is self-assessment? That's the question the National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE) is asking itself after recently commissioning an opinion survey of adults and teenagers about their perceptions of physical activity and physical education. In spite of the U.S. Surgeon General's Report on Physical Activity and Health (1996) stating that 60% of adults are not getting enough physical activity, the majority of adults (88%) and teenagers (84%) participating in this survey reported that they are getting enough physical activity to maintain a healthy lifestyle. The recommended exercise for adolescents and adults is at least 30 minutes per day on most if not all days.

"It appears perceptions do not meet reality," said NASPE President Kim Graber, Ph.D., of the University of Illinois, Urbana/Champaign. "The lack of physical activity among Americans of all ages is so critical, it is considered to be a major health risk factor. Yet nearly nine in 10 (88%) adults report getting 30 minutes of exercise at least once a week. They average 3.9 exercise sessions per week.

  • Teens ages 12-17 say that on average, they participate in physical activity for at least 30 minutes, 4.2 times per week.
  • Seventy-six percent of adults feel that their children also get enough physical activity."

"Clearly the physical activity community must find better and more creative ways to provide parents and teens with a better understanding about the amount and type of activity needed to maintain good health," continued Dr. Graber.

The Healthy School Summit, scheduled for October 7 and 8 in Washington, D.C., will examine the ways schools can be part of the solution for addressing poor diets and sedentary lifestyles. Citing a looming health crisis among the nation's children, Mrs. Laura Bush, Dr. David Satcher and more than 30 national organizations, including NASPE, will develop national, state and local initiatives to create healthier school environments.

NASPE Executive Director Judith C. Young, Ph.D. questioned the participants recording of their screen time. " While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report teens watching more than five hours of television viewing per day, the adults and teenagers said they watched 2.2 hours of television per day and spent another two hours a day using a personal computer for Internet browsing, chat rooms, games, and school research," said Dr. Young.

Teenagers admit to spending the "majority of their downtime" on a personal computer.

  • The majority of parents feel that television (42%) and computers or video games (41%) are the largest barriers to their child's physical activity.
  • Lack of interest or motivation (29%), too much homework (28%), and lack of access to safe facilities (21%) are other reasons for inactive daily routines.

Perceived Benefits of Physical Education

Nationwide, while only 51.7% of students are enrolled in a physical education class, the majority of adults (84%) with children ages 6-17 have a positive perception about their child's physical education classes. Nearly three-fourths believe that physical activity and physical education will support learning in other subject areas, such as math, reading or science. Adults also believe physical education makes children more alert/aware; focus better; increases energy; learns how to work with others, reduces stress and helps make the children healthier.

While nearly 79% of parents feel that their own attitudes towards physical activity and physical education affect their child's attitude, more than half of teenagers say their parents' attitudes are not important in influencing their attitudes toward physical activity (56%) and physical education (64%).

  • Teens selected friends (56%) as the best source to help them be more active, followed by parents (18%) and professional athletes (11%).
  • Few felt that teachers (5%), their doctor (4%) or celebrities (3%) would help them to be more active.

Adults feel their job performance is positively affected by being more fit because it gives them more energy, greater mental alertness, reduces stress and allows for better time management. Those adults who don't think they're getting enough physical activity most often say it's because of:

  • their job (23%), not having enough time (18%), health problems (12%), or lack of interest or motivation (12%).

In addition, the majority of parents feel that participation in a sport or physical activity positively affects their child's self-esteem. A large majority of teens (85%) join adults in believing that their participation in sports or physical activity will help them stay out of trouble.

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The survey, which was conducted by Opinion Research Corporation International of Princeton, NJ, is based on interviews with a nationally representative sample of 1,021 adults (18 years of age and older, 50% male/50% female) and 500 teens, ages 12-17. The margin of error for the adult sample is + or - 3 percentage points; when broken into subgroups (those with children in the household) the margin of error is + or - 6 percentage points. The margin of error for the teen sample is + or - 4 percentage points. All interviewing was done from August 1-4, 2002.

Information about the National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE) can be found on the Internet at www.aahperd.org, the web site of the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation & Dance (AAHPERD). NASPE is the largest of AAHPERD's six national associations. A nonprofit membership organization of over 18,000 professionals in the fitness and physical activity fields, NASPE is the only national association dedicated to strengthening basic knowledge about sport and physical education among professionals and the general public. Putting that knowledge into action in schools and communities across the nation is critical to improved academic performance, social reform and the health of individuals.

This survey was funded with an unrestricted research grant from the National Soft Drink Association.

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