Physical and Social Contextual Influences on Children’s Leisure-Time Physical Activity: An Ecological Momentary Assessment Study

in Journal of Physical Activity and Health


This study used real-time electronic surveys delivered through mobile phones, known as Ecological Momentary Assessment (EMA), to determine whether level and experience of leisure-time physical activity differ across children’s physical and social contexts.


Children (N = 121; ages 9 to 13 years; 52% male, 32% Hispanic/Latino) participated in 4 days (Fri.–Mon.) of EMA during nonschool time. Electronic surveys (20 total) assessed primary activity (eg, active play/sports/exercise), physical location (eg, home, outdoors), social context (eg, friends, alone), current mood (positive and negative affect), and enjoyment. Responses were time-matched to the number of steps and minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA; measured by accelerometer) in the 30 minutes before each survey.


Mean steps and MVPA were greater outdoors than at home or at someone else’s house (all P < .05). Steps were greater with multiple categories of company (eg, friends and family together) than with family members only or alone (all P < .05). Enjoyment was greater outdoors than at home or someone else’s house (all P < .05). Negative affect was greater when alone and with family only than friends only (all P < .05).


Results describing the value of outdoor and social settings could inform context-specific interventions in this age group.

Dunton, Liao, and Pentz are with the Dept of Preventive Medicine, University of Southern California, Alhambra, CA. Intille is with the Dept of Architecture, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA and the College of Computer and Information Science and Bouve College of Health Sciences, Northeastern University, Boston, MA. Wolch is with the College of Environmental Design, University of California, Berkeley.