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Healthy Kids: Physical Activity

This interactive dashboard and analysis explore physical activity in Colorado's high schools using data from the 2015 Healthy Kids Colorado Survey.
Published: January 31, 2017 | Updated: May 3, 2017

In this era of tablet computers and smartphones, it can be hard to put down the touch screen and get active.

So difficult, in fact, that 34.1 percent of Colorado high school students spend three or more hours on an average school day playing a video or computer game, according to the 2015 Healthy Kids Colorado Survey (HKCS). The rate has climbed from 2013, when it stood at  32.6 percent.

As for exercise, only 27.8 percent of Colorado high schoolers engage in 60 minutes of physical activity daily for all seven days of the week, the amount recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). But about half (51.9 percent) do exercise at least 60 minutes five days a week, up from 49.1 percent in 2013 — perhaps a more representative standard.

The lure of technology isn’t the only reason some kids don’t regularly break a sweat. The lack of safe streets and sidewalks in a community also can discourage a student from walking or biking to school.

The availability of team sports and robust P.E. classes also play a role in whether a high schooler is an active teen or a sideline spectator. Health Statistics Regions (HSRs) with the highest percentage of students who reported being active also had the highest rates of students regularly showing up for P.E. classes. 

This analysis is part of the Colorado Health Institute’s series of interactive dashboards and in-depth analyses of data from the 2015 HKCS. About 16,000 high schoolers took the survey in 2015.

Physical Activity

The most physically active students live in rural areas. Just over 75 percent of students in the central Eastern Plains (HSR 5), 63.3 percent in northeastern Colorado (HSR 1) and 61.9 percent in northwest Colorado (HSR 11) reported being active at least an hour in five of the previous seven days. These regions also had the highest rates of students meeting the CDC’s recommended 60 minutes of daily physical activity.

The HSRs with the lowest rates of students meeting the one-hour/five-day activity level are urban — Boulder (HSR 16 at 48.3 percent), Denver (HSR 20 at 46.4 percent) and Arapahoe (HSR 15 at 43.1 percent) counties.

There’s a demographic component to exercise as well.

Over half (54.2 percent) of heterosexual students reported meeting the five-day standard compared with 39.4 percent of gay, lesbian or bisexual (LGB) students, the survey said.

Asian students are least likely to be active, with 38.1 percent saying they met the five-day standard compared with 44.8 percent of Hispanic students and 48.9 percent of black students. White students and multiracial students are more likely to be active, 55.5 percent and 53.9 percent, respectively.

That said, one of 10 high schoolers (12.5 percent) said they were not active for at least an hour on any day of the previous week. Counties with the lowest rates are urban. Fewer than one of five of students in Pueblo, Denver, and Arapahoe counties said they didn’t participate in at least 60 minutes of physical activity in the previous seven days.

Active Transportation

Walking, biking or skateboarding to a destination fall under the category of “active transportation.”

The highest rates of active transportation one or more days a week are among high schoolers in Boulder (21.6 percent), Denver (27.3 percent) and Arapahoe (23.4) counties

On the other hand, only 13.1 percent of students in Mesa County (HSR 19) said they got to school using their feet. That is the lowest rate in the state, followed by Pueblo County (HSR 7) at 13.4 percent and counties in central Eastern Plains (HSR 5) at 14.2 percent.

Across Colorado, 45.3 percent of respondents said they could get to school walking, biking or skateboarding but only 18.6 percent said they did, a 26.7 percentage point difference. In 2013, the percentage point difference stood at  28.0,  when 47.8 percent of high schoolers said they could walk, bike or ride to school while only 19.9 percent did.

The biggest gap is in the central Eastern Plains. Almost half of students (49.9 percent) said they could get to school by walking, biking or riding a skateboard but only 14.2 percent did so — a 35.7 percentage point difference. Western slope counties (HSR 10) closely followed, with 49.1 percent of students reporting they could get to school via active transportation but only 19.1 percent who did so.

Physical Activity at School and in the Community

Nearly two of three high schoolers (60.1 percent) played on a sports team in the previous 12 months, a small drop from 61.4 percent in 2013. However, there are big differences in terms of race, ethnicity and sexual orientation.  

The rates of sports participation are basically the same for white students (62.3 percent), black students (62.9 percent) and multiracial students (61.4 percent). Nearly eight of 10 (79.7 percent) students who identified t as Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander said they played on a sports team in the previous 12 months. For Hispanics, the rate is 56 percent and it’s 46.6 percent for students who identified themselves as Asian.

Heterosexual students are more likely to play sports (63 percent) than LGB students (41.3 percent) and those who are unsure of their orientation (45.4 percent).

Students in urban areas are less likely to play on a sports team compared with their rural counterparts. The five lowest rates of students belonging to a team are in Arapahoe, Denver, Pueblo, Mesa and Adams counties. The lowest rate in the state is Adams County at 54.7 percent.

On the other hand, the three highest rates are in rural areas. Nearly 83 percent of students in counties along the Eastern Plains played on a sports team in the previous year, followed by southeast Colorado (HSR 6 at 74.8 percent) and northwest counties (HSR 11 at 68.3 percent).

For students who aren’t interested in high school sports, P.E. classes can be an alternative to get active during school. Two of the three HSRs, 1 and 5, with the highest rates of high schoolers attending P.E. classes are also high in physical activity. Overall, about four of 10 high schoolers (40.7 percent) reported attending a P.E. class one more days on an average school week, down from 46.2 percent in 2013.