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J Adolesc Health. 2007 Dec;41(6):559-65. Epub 2007 Sep 29.

A longitudinal assessment of the links between physical activity and self-esteem in early adolescent non-Hispanic females.

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Department of Parks, Recreation, & Tourism Management, Clemson University, Clemson, South Carolina 29634, USA.



For decades, researchers have proclaimed the positive psychosocial benefits of participation in physical activity. However, recent meta-analyses of the literature have found infrequent and inconclusive empirical support for the link between physical activity and psychosocial well-being. In this study, we use data from a longitudinal study to explore the links between participation in physical activity and global self-esteem among girls from childhood into early adolescence and the direction of this relationship.


Participants included 197 non-Hispanic white girls. Girls' participation in physical activity and their global self-esteem were assessed when they were 9, 11, and 13 years old. Panel regression was used to assess the lagged effect of physical activity on self-esteem and the lagged effect of self-esteem on physical activity, controlling for family socioeconomic status (SES) and girls' body mass index (BMI).


A significant lagged effect of physical activity on self-esteem was identified. Specifically, higher physical activity at ages 9 and 11 years predicted higher self-esteem at ages 11 and 13 years respectively, controlling for covariates. Positive effects of physical activity on self-esteem were most apparent at age 11 and for girls with higher BMI. No support was gained for the lagged effect of self-esteem on physical activity.


Results suggest that participating in physical activity can lead to positive self-esteem among adolescent girls, particularly for younger girls and those at greatest risk of overweight. These findings highlight the necessity of promoting physical activity among adolescent girls as a method of fostering positive self-worth.

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