Physical activity declines with increasing age through childhood and adolescence, and a large percentage of adolescents in the U.S. do not meet current physical activity guidelines. The transition from elementary school to middle school is a critical developmental stage in the lives of young people, and it is a period during which physical activity levels decline dramatically in many children. Many previous studies have examined the correlates of physical activity behavior in children and adolescents. However, no previous studies have prospectively and comprehensively studied the mechanisms that underlie change in physical activity behavior over time in young people. Likewise, none have used an objective measure of physical activity and multi-level analytic methods. Therefore, the aims of the proposed study are to examine the direct and indirect influences of personal, home/family, neighborhood, school and community factors on changes in physical activity in African American and white boys and girls as they transition from elementary school to middle school. The potential moderating effects of gender, race, socioeconomic status, and neighborhood environment on factors influencing changes in physical activity also will be examined. The study will involve 750 5th grade students and their parents, who will participate in a measurement protocol at 5th, 6th and 7th grades. Measures will include physical activity measured by accelerometry and self-report and a wide range of independent variables measured at three levels -- child/family/home/street, elementary school/neighborhood, and middle school/community. Data will be provided by children and parents during annual home visits during which questionnaires will be completed and anthropometric measures will be administered. School data will be acquired through interviews with school personnel, and information on physical environmental factors will be measured by windshield surveys of street segments, application of a detailed Geographic Information Systems database, audits of physical activity places, and self-reported perceptions of the environment. Multi-level structural equation modeling procedures will be used to identify factors that are directly or indirectly associated with change in physical activity across the three grade levels. This study will address a critical public health challenge by markedly expanding our knowledge of the factors that influence development of physical activity behavior in youth. This knowledge is needed to inform future public health interventions aimed at increasing physical activity and preventing obesity in children and adolescents.

Public Health Relevance

Obesity rates have skyrocketed in American youth, and declining physical activity is a likely cause of this alarming trend. Physical activity levels decrease dramatically in many children during the transition from elementary to middle school, and the factors that underlie that change are not well understood. This study will apply sophisticated data collection and data analysis techniques in identifying the key factors that cause physical activity levels to decrease as children transition into adolescence.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI)
Research Project (R01)
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Community Influences on Health Behavior (CIHB)
Program Officer
Pratt, Charlotte
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University of South Carolina at Columbia
Other Health Professions
Schools of Public Health
United States
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Ross, Sharon E Taverno; Clennin, Morgan N; Dowda, Marsha et al. (2018) Stepping It Up: Walking Behaviors in Children Transitioning from 5th to 7th Grade. Int J Environ Res Public Health 15:
Dishman, Rod K; McIver, Kerry L; Dowda, Marsha et al. (2018) Declining Physical Activity and Motivation from Middle School to High School. Med Sci Sports Exerc 50:1206-1215
Lau, Erica Y; Dowda, Marsha; McIver, Kerry L et al. (2017) Changes in Physical Activity in the School, Afterschool, and Evening Periods During the Transition From Elementary to Middle School. J Sch Health 87:531-537
Dowda, Marsha; Taverno Ross, Sharon E; McIver, Kerry L et al. (2017) Physical Activity and Changes in Adiposity in the Transition from Elementary to Middle School. Child Obes 13:53-62
Barr-Anderson, Daheia J; Flynn, Jennifer I; Dowda, Marsha et al. (2017) The Modifying Effects of Race/Ethnicity and Socioeconomic Status on the Change in Physical Activity From Elementary to Middle School. J Adolesc Health 61:562-570
Colabianchi, Natalie; Griffin, Jamie L; McIver, Kerry L et al. (2016) Where are Children Active and Does it Matter for Physical Activity? A Latent Transition Analysis. J Phys Act Health 13:1294-1300
Forthofer, Melinda; Dowda, Marsha; McIver, Kerry et al. (2016) Associations Between Maternal Support and Physical Activity Among 5th Grade Students. Matern Child Health J 20:720-9
Taverno Ross, Sharon E; Dowda, Marsha; Dishman, Rodney K et al. (2016) Classes of Physical Activity and Sedentary Behavior in 5th Grade Children. Am J Health Behav 40:352-61
McDonald, Samantha; Dowda, Marsha; Colabianchi, Natalie et al. (2015) Perceptions of the Neighborhood Environment and Children's Afterschool Moderate-to-Vigorous Physical Activity. Pediatr Exerc Sci 27:243-51
Dishman, Rod K; McIver, Kerry L; Dowda, Marsha et al. (2015) Motivation and Behavioral Regulation of Physical Activity in Middle School Students. Med Sci Sports Exerc 47:1913-21

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