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The provision of autonomy supportive environments that promote physical activity engagement have become popular in contemporary youth settings. However, questions remain about whether adolescent perceptions of their autonomy have implications for physical activity. The purpose of this investigation was to examine the association between adolescents' self-reported physical activity and their perceived autonomy. Participants (n = 384 adolescents) aged between 12 and 15 years were recruited from six secondary schools in metropolitan Brisbane, Australia. Self-reported measures of physical activity and autonomy were obtained. Logistic regression with inverse probability weights were used to examine the association between autonomy and the odds of meeting youth physical activity guidelines. Autonomy (OR 0.61, 95% CI 0.49-0.76) and gender (OR 0.62, 95% CI 0.46-0.83) were negatively associated with meeting physical activity guidelines. However, the model explained only a small amount of the variation in whether youth in this sample met physical activity guidelines (R2 = 0.023). For every 1 unit decrease in autonomy (on an index from 1 to 5), participants were 1.64 times more likely to meet physical activity guidelines. The findings, which are at odds with several previous studies, suggest that interventions designed to facilitate youth physical activity should limit opportunities for youth to make independent decisions about their engagement. However, the small amount of variation explained by the predictors in the model is a caveat, and should be considered prior to applying such suggestions in practical settings. Future research should continue to examine a larger age range, longitudinal observational or intervention studies to examine assertions of causality, as well as objective measurement of physical activity.


Institute for Health and Ageing

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Journal Article

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