Active Places

The Role of Urbanicity in Youth Exercise, Sports Participation, and Perceived Barriers to These Activities


  • Lacey Wallace Penn State Altoona


youth sports; parent perceptions; urbanicity; youth exercise


To date, there remains only limited understanding of how the physical activities and sports participation of youth in rural, suburban, and urban areas differ and why.  This study investigated differences by urbanicity in youth sports participation, parent-perceived barriers to participation, and parents’ perceptions of youth sports and exercise.  Data were collected through an online survey in October 2020 of 525 Pennsylvania residents with a child ages 3 to 17 at home.  Results indicated that rural and suburban youth played fewer recreational and competitive sports than their urban counterparts.  Rural parents and suburban parents felt that sports were less important for youth than urban parents.  They felt similarly about youth exercise.  Urbanicity did not distinguish what parents perceived as barriers to their child’s sports participation or physical activity.


Armstrong, S., Wong, C. A., Perrin, E., Page, S., Sibley, L., & Skinner, A. (2018). Association of physical activity with income, race/ethnicity, and sex among adolescents and young adults in the United States: Findings from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 2007-2016. JAMA Pediatrics, 172(8), 732–740.

Biddle, S. J. H., Ciaccioni, S., Thomas, G., & Vergeer, I. (2019). Physical activity and mental health in children and adolescents: An updated review of reviews and an analysis of causality. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 42, 146–155.

Bishaw, A., & Posey, K. G. (2016, December 8). A comparison of rural and urban America: Household income and poverty. The United States Census Bureau.

Breistol, S., Clench-Aas, J., Roy, B. V., & Raanaas, R. K. (2017). Association between participating in noncompetitive or competitive sports and mental health among adolescents—A Norwegian population-based cross-sectional study. Scandinavian Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Psychology, 5(1), 28–39.

Burns, R. D., Brusseau, T. A., Pfledderer, C. D., & Fu, Y. (2020). Sports participation correlates with academic achievement: Results from a large adolescent sample within the 2017 U.S. National Youth Risk Behavior Survey. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 127(2), 448–467.

Center for Rural Pennsylvania. (2015). Quick Facts. The Center for Rural Pennsylvania.

ChildTrends. (2017). Participation in school athletics.

Clinedinst, M., & Patel, P. (2018). State of college admission 2018. National Association for College Admissions Counseling.

Coleman, M., Ganong, L. H., Clark, J. M., & Madsen, R. (1989). Parenting perceptions in rural and urban families: Is there a difference? Journal of Marriage and Family, 51(2), 329–335.

Czyż, S. H., Szmajke, A., Kruger, A., & Kübler, M. (2016). Participation in team sports can eliminate the effect of social loafing. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 123(3), 754–768.

Euler, R., Jimenez, E. Y., Sanders, S., Kuhlemeier, A., Van Horn, M. L., Cohen, D., Gonzales-Pacheco, D., & Kong, A. S. (2019). Rural–urban differences in baseline dietary intake and physical activity levels of adolescents. Preventing Chronic Disease, 16.

Hayles, C. M., Carroll, M. D., Fryar, C. D., & Ogden, C. L. (2017). Prevalence of Obesity Among Adults and Youth: United States, 2015–2016 (No. 288; NCHS Data Brief).

Hyde, E. T., Omura, J. D., Fulton, J. E., Lee, S. M., Piercy, K. L., & Carlson, S. A. (2020). Disparities in youth sports participation in the U.S., 2017–2018. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 59(5), e207–e210.

Jewett, R., Sabiston, C. M., Brunet, J., O’Loughlin, E. K., Scarapicchia, T., & O’Loughlin, J. (2014). School sport participation during adolescence and mental health in early adulthood. Journal of Adolescent Health, 55(5), 640–644.

Lareau, A. (2003). Unequal childhoods: Class, race, and family life. University of California Press.

McGovern, J., Drewson, S. R., Hope, A., & Konopack, J. F. (2020). Gender differences in a youth physical activity intervention: Movement levels and children’s perceptions. American Journal of Health Education, 51(2), 109–119.

Moore, J. B., Jilcott, S. B., Shores, K. A., Evenson, K. R., Brownson, R. C., & Novick, L. F. (2010). A qualitative examination of perceived barriers and facilitators of physical activity for urban and rural youth. Health Education Research, 25(2), 355–367.

National Federation of State High School Associations. (2019). 2018-2019 High school athletics participation survey.

Petridou, A., Siopi, A., & Mougios, V. (2019). Exercise in the management of obesity. Metabolism, 92, 163–169.

Piercy, K. L., Troiano, R. P., Ballard, R. M., Carlson, S. A., Fulton, J. E., Galuska, D. A., George, S. M., & Olson, R. D. (2018). The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. JAMA, 320(19), 2020.

Proudfoot, N. A., King-Dowling, S., Cairney, J., Bray, S. R., MacDonald, M. J., & Timmons, B. W. (2019). Physical activity and trajectories of cardiovascular health indicators during early childhood. Pediatrics.

SHAPE America. (2016). 2016 Shape of the Nation: Status of Physical Education in the USA. Society of Health and Physical Educators.

U.S. Census Bureau. (2019). U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts: Pennsylvania.,US/PST045218

Zarrett, N., Veliz, P. T., & Sabo, D. (2020). Keeping Girls in the Game: Factors that Influence Sport Participation. Women’s Sports Foundation.

Zuckerman, S. L., Tang, A. R., Richard, K. E., Grisham, C. J., Kuhn, A. W., Bonfield, C. M., & Yengo-Kahn, A. M. (2020). The behavioral, psychological and social impacts of team sports: A systematic review and meta-analysis. The Physician and Sportsmedicine,