U.S. Children and Youth’s Physical Activities Inside and Outside of School PE: 1985 vs. 2012

Xiaochen Zhao, Weimo Zhu, Zezhao Chen, Sicong Ren, Xiong Qin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The purpose of this study was, by taking advantage of the rich data from two U.S. national fitness surveys, to examine the physical activity (PA) students engaged in, both inside and outside school physical education (PE), determine if there are differences by grade, sex, and weight status, and if there was a change between 1985 and 2012. The data from the 1985 National Children and Youth Fitness Study (NCYFS) and the 2012 NHANES National Youth Fitness Survey (NNYFS) were matched, merged (N = 6178, 3107 boys and 3071 girls), and analyzed. It was found that basketball remained the most popular PA inside school PE across both surveys. Swimming was the most popular PA outside of school PE in 1985, but was replaced by running in 2012. Although PA taught and promoted inside of school PE and that such PA practiced outside were moderately correlated across the surveys, some disconnections were noticed. The impact of grade, sex, and weight status on PA preference and participation was also confirmed. What is needed is to the design and integration of more lifelong and individual PAs in future school PE curricula and school and community children and youth sport and PA programs.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number398
Pages (from-to)1-15
Number of pages15
JournalInternational journal of environmental research and public health
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 2 2021


  • physical education
  • national studies
  • youth sport
  • activity ranking
  • Youth sport
  • Activity ranking
  • Physical education
  • National studies

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


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