Organized Sports and Unstructured Active Play as Physical Activity Sources in Children From Low-Income Chicago Households

in Pediatric Exercise Science
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This study tested associations of organized sports participation and unstructured active play with overall moderate and vigorous physical activity (MVPA) in low-income children and examined factors associated with participation frequency.


Research staff visited 88 low-income Chicago households with children ages 6–13 years. MVPA was assessed through 7-day accelerometry. Researchers documented the home availability of physical activity equipment. Caregivers reported on child participation in organized sports and unstructured active play, family support for physical activity, perceived neighborhood safety, and access to neighborhood physical activity venues.


Despite similar participation in organized sports and unstructured active play, boys accumulated more MVPA than girls. MVPA was predicted by an interaction between gender and unstructured active play. Boys accumulated 23–45 additional minutes of weekday MVPA and 53–62 additional minutes of weekend MVPA through unstructured active play, with no such associations in girls. Higher reported neighborhood safety and family support for physical activity were associated with engagement in unstructured active play for both genders, and with participation in organized sports for girls.


Physical activity interventions for low-income, urban children should emphasize unstructured active play, particularly in boys. Fostering family support for physical activity and safe play environments may be critical intervention components.

The authors are with the Dept. of Preventive Medicine, Rush University Medical Center, Chicago, IL.

Address author correspondence to Bradley Appelhans at
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