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Socioeconomic Effects on Meeting Physical Activity Guidelines: Comparisons among 32 Countries


Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: April 2009 - Volume 41 - Issue 4 - p 749-756
doi: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e3181917722
Basic Sciences

Purpose: This study examined the relationship between age and gender with physical activity (PA) and how meeting of PA guidelines (PAGL) is related to socioeconomic status (SES) and sedentary behaviors (SB).

Methods: Data were collected from 11-, 13-, and 15-yr-old students in 32 countries participating in the Health Behaviour in School-aged Children (HBSC) survey 2001/2002. A self-completed questionnaire assessed weekly moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) and SB for the past 7 d and MVPA for a typical week. SES was assessed using the Family Affluence Scale (FAS).

Results: None of the countries averaged enough MVPA to meet PAGL. The pattern of MVPA across age and gender was consistent among all countries. In all countries, older children were less active when compared with the youngest children; girls were significantly less active than boys were (mean hours per week of MVPA 3.52 ± 1.88 vs 4.13 ± 1.95) and were more likely to not meet the PAGL. SES was significantly associated with the amount of reported MVPA. SES and PAGL were not significantly related in seven countries, and a significant decrease in the influence of age was observed in these countries compared with other countries.

Conclusions: Levels of MVPA during adolescence showed consistent patterns across countries in relation to age, gender, and social class. The limited effect of age on PA in countries where the influence of social class was less strong suggests the possibility of a moderating effect of context in the development of habits acquired during childhood.

1Department of Public Health and Microbiology, University of Turin, Torino, ITALY; 2National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), Bethesda, MD; and 3Department of Public Health, University of Siena, Siena, ITALY

Address for correspondence: Alberto Borraccino, M.D., Department of Public Health and Microbiology, University of Turin, IT, Via Santena 5bis 10126 Torino, Italy; E-mail:

Submitted for publication May 2008.

Accepted for publication October 2008.

©2009The American College of Sports Medicine