School Sport Policy and School-Based Physical Activity Environments and Their Association with Observed Physical Activity in Middle School Children

School environments play an important role to ensure that children have access to and participate in physical activity. Using regression analysis, this article examines school sport policies and school environments and their impact on children’s physical activity.

The study focused on four middle schools with similar populations and geographic locations. Two schools offered competitive varsity sports; two schools offered intramural sports. To record use, setting characteristics and student physical activity levels, trained observers used the System for Observing Play and Leisure in Youth (SOPLAY). Students (6,735) were observed between 2:30 p.m. and 4:30 p.m., Monday through Thursday, during several months in 2009.

Key Findings:

  • Most intramural sports participants were observed in gyms (68.6%), followed by multi-purpose fields (12.2%), while most varsity sports participants were observed in multi-purpose field areas (31.8%) and gyms (28.8%).
  • Overall, 52.4 percent of all students observed were sedentary; 29.8 percent were walking, and 17.8 percent were very active.
  • Varsity sport programs were associated with lower physical activity levels among boys only.

This study provides information on activity settings and activity participation. By measuring the association of school sport policy with the middle-school student’s physical activity can inform programming and facility use.