Just one in four teens in disadvantaged areas is physically active

16 December 2016

One in four adolescents from disadvantaged regions of New South Wales engage in an hour per day of moderate to vigorous physical activity outside the school setting, new research reveals. 

Old running shoes on the steps.

Published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, the study reveals similar overall levels of physical activity among Indigenous (21 percent) and non-Indigenous adolescents (28 percent) from disadvantaged regions of New South Wales.

In a survey of almost one thousand adolescents, only one in four engaged in an hour per day of moderate to vigorous physical activity outside the school setting. In Australia and internationally, at least an hour per day of moderate to vigorous physical activity is recommended for young people.

Australian Bureau of Statistics data indicates that 48 percent of Indigenous adolescents and 35 percent of non-Indigenous adolescents meet national physical activity recommendations.

Overall, the study shows that higher levels of physical activity were associated with being male, a member of a sports team, lower levels of TV viewing time, and having an employed mother. Some of these factors – gender, being confident and maternal employment – were significantly associated with physical activity of Indigenous students.

Indigenous girls (14.3 percent) were less active than Indigenous boys (24.8 percent), as were those whose mothers were unemployed. Among non-Indigenous adolescents, high levels of physical activity were associated with sports team membership and community involvement. 

Being physically active is of key importance to a wide range of physical and mental health outcomes.
Rona MacNiven

“We already know that relative to those from more advantaged areas, young people from disadvantaged areas are less active and report more sedentary behavior,” said the study’s co-author, Rona MacNiven from the University of Sydney’s School of Public Health.

This study was unique as it was an Indigenous led study by Professor Shane Hearn and also in having a relatively large sample of Indigenous adolescents so we could explore factors associated with physical activity in more detail.

“Low physical activity levels may be due to a combination of complex factors, some of which were the same for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous disadvantaged adolescents and some of which were different," said Professor Hearn.  

"This means we could target these groups to better effect, for example building levels of confidence of Indigenous adolescents could increase their physical activity." 

Ms MacNiven said: “We found a strong gender difference in the Indigenous sample so we also need to be providing specific opportunities for key target groups like Indigenous adolescent girls to be active. Giving a range of options to be active, from organised sport to informal ways of getting out and participating in activities teenagers enjoy is crucial.

“Other research has shown the importance of broader factors like parental employment provide the best conditions for people to have the resources and opportunities for their families to be active. The findings from our study were consistent with these longer term strategies.”


Dan Gaffney

Media & PR Adviser (Medicine, Dentistry, Nursing and Pharmacy)