Research Output
An Investigation into the Nature of Physical Activity in Young People within a Scottish Context
  Researchers have linked physical activity (PA) with positive health outcomes. Unfortunately, PA in young people continues to be reported as a concern with many not achieving the recommended guidelines. Further, participation in childhood and adolescence is positively associated with PA into adulthood, highlighting the importance of PA habits in young people for lifelong participation. Gender, socio- economic status (SES), and motivation have all been shown to be important factors that influence participation, and as such are a focus of this thesis.
Mixed methods research was adopted to ‘investigate the nature of PA in young people within a Scottish context’ including quantitative (study one) and qualitative (studies two and three) methodologies. The initial motivation for study one emerged through my personal interest in understanding the nature of young people’s participation in structured club activities and the role SES, gender and motivation play in a Scottish context. Sport is often used as a proxy for PA and as such, young people’s participation is frequently reported on sports club based activities. On reflection, this focus on ‘weekly club activity sessions,’ rather than a more broad, valid, and reliable measure of PA, limited the application of the findings. Nevertheless, the findings and reflection on the methods used in study one informed the direction of the thesis moving forward. More specifically, SES was found to be the strongest predictor of club activity participation, with those from higher SES taking part in more club activity sessions than those from lower SES. No significant gender differences in participation were found. While SES was the sole predictor of school club activities, perceived competence and intrinsic motivation were also important predictors of participation in out-of-school club activities. The regression models predicted between 5% and 27% of the variance in club participation, highlighting the multi-factorial nature of the influencers of participation.
In order to understand the nature of PA more broadly in young people from lower SES within a Scottish context and to investigate the complexity of participation influencers, a qualitative methodology was used. Study two investigated low SES Scottish youths’ PA experiences across key development stages (i.e., childhood, adolescence and newly identified early adulthood, study two). Results suggested that young people from low SES participate in a high variety of unstructured PA throughout their lives, which is under reported in the literature. Participation in structured sport based activities in childhood, particularly those in which a young person forms a sport ‘identity,’ influences future adherence, but also engagement and enjoyment of school physical education (PE). For many young people, particularly those from less affluent backgrounds, school PE may be the only opportunity for them to participate in structured PA. While some young people embraced school PE, others perceived PE a threatening, so leading them to avoid or drop out altogether. Findings showed that in addition to previous experience, the nature of the PE climate also influenced participation as young people entered early adulthood.
As well as shedding light on the broad nature of young people’s PA from low SES backgrounds, the findings from study two highlighted the role that schools (e.g., through PE) have in influencing young people’s PA and associated attitudes. Study three aimed to investigate young people’s PA, motivational influences, and the role of schools from the perspective of qualified Scottish PE teachers, knowledgeable on policy issues and active in the development of future teachers. The main findings from study three showed that family influences (mostly parents) and SES were key towards the formation of young people’s attitudes and behaviours towards PA, particularly in sports. Those young people with parents not showing any interest in PA were more likely to be inactive compared to those youngsters with active parents. Young people from lower SES backgrounds were less likely to participate in sports activities, thus preventing them from gaining the necessary experiences (and competencies) needed to successfully take part in many school PE activities. Also, this study found that secondary school PE is perceived by many pupils as threatening which subsequently led many to avoid PE altogether. Many young people are not achieving the curriculum expected health and well-being benefits through school PE. The results also highlighted the huge challenge and role conflict that is apparent for PE teachers in schools, which is a barrier to effective promotion of PA and positive attitudes in a range of young people.
This thesis supports the contention that SES is an important factor in young people’s PA. While those from lower SES were shown to participate in less structured sport club activity than those from higher SES, evidence emerged suggesting that young people from lower SES participate in a variety of unstructured PA which is underreported in the literature. The complexities of PA participation were also apparent where previous experience, parents and school PE were found to have important roles, which either facilitated or debilitated motivation, and participation. This thesis also highlighted that there are serious challenges in delivering an effective PE experience to pupils with a wide range of ability and backgrounds. These challenges were exacerbated by the vagueness of policy guidance (e.g., within Scotland’s curriculum for excellence), the pressures of certification, and the mostly sport dominated culture of PE. Implications for policy and practice in relation to the motivational climate of PEemerged. Recommendations for future research and practice in this area are discussed.

  • Type:


  • Date:

    28 June 2018

  • Publication Status:


  • Library of Congress:

    RJ101 Child Health. Child health services

  • Dewey Decimal Classification:

    613 Personal health & safety

  • Funders:

    Edinburgh Napier Funded


Young, S. D. An Investigation into the Nature of Physical Activity in Young People within a Scottish Context. (Thesis). Edinburgh Napier University. Retrieved from



Physical activity, health, socioeconomic status, young people

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