UC San Diego

   UC San Diego School of Medicine

Youth Physical Activity in Summer vs. School Year: Patterns and Disparities


Adolescents have lower levels of physical activity (PA) and more rapid weight gain during summertime when they are not attending school. This is unexpected because traditionally children have more time for PA during the summer. The reasons for children’s worsening health indicators over the summer are not clear. Given disparities in summer weight gain, it is important to understand PA patterns, opportunities, and barriers for the major race/ethnic subgroups to inform possible solutions tailored to these subgroups.

The study’s primary aim is to compare PA patterns and the places where PA occurs among diverse adolescent subgroups. The target population is adolescents living in lower-income areas and representing the major US race/ethnic groups: African American, Latino, American Indian, Asian, Pacific Islander, and White-non Hispanic. Forty adolescents in 6 race/ethnic groups (11-17 years old; total n=240) are being recruited and measured during the school year and during summertime. Two types of measures are collected: (a) objectively assessed PA using accelerometers; and (b) surveys about preferred PA activities and places, sedentary behaviors, and perceived barriers and opportunities for PA. Comparisons will be made across two dimensions: (1) summertime versus school year; and (2) race/ethnic subgroups. Findings will be the basis for subgroup-specific recommendations about policies to promote summertime PA, especially in high-risk groups.

By studying how and where children from specific ethnic/racial subgroups are active and inactive during the school year and summer, we can recommend policy and environmental changes that are tailored to specific groups. If we find that children spend more time in parks in the summer, but are not very active there, we can recommend more free/low-cost activity programs in the summer and construction of more PA facilities in those parks. If we find that children spend more time in their home neighborhoods in the summer and are not active there, we can recommend more investment to create safer walking and bicycling conditions, regular Play Streets, transformation of vacant lots to pocket parks with play equipment, or improved transportation to and reduced fees for activity programs in public or private facilities. These interventions can be targeted to vulnerable children through need-based funding.

Communication Plan

In coordination with partners, our planned communication products include research briefs, infographics, webinars, and conferences targeting researchers and practitioners in fields such as social justice, recreation, public health, and pediatric/medical audiences, as well as RWJF healthy weight partners.

Research Findings and Products

Project Team

James F. Sallis, PhD – Principal Investigator, [email protected]
Terry L. Conway, PhD – Co-Principal Investigator, [email protected]
Kelli L. Cain, MA, PhD Candidate –  Project Manager
Carrie M. Geremia – Research Associate
Edith A. Bonilla, BS – Study Coordinator
Serena E. Ruiz, BS – Research Assistant
Chad Spoon, MRP – Research Associate