Promoting Children’s Physical Activity in Low-Income Communities in Colorado: What Are the Barriers and Opportunities?

Promoting Children’s Physical Activity in Low-Income Communities in Colorado: What Are the Barriers and Opportunities?

Published: Dec 14, 2017
Publisher: Preventing Chronic Disease, vol. 14

Daniel M. Finkelstein

Dana M. Petersen

Lisa S. Schottenfeld


Colorado has the highest rate of adult physical activity in the United States. However, children in Colorado have a lower rate of physical activity relative to other states, and the rate is lowest among children in low-income households. We conducted focus groups, surveys, and interviews with parents, youth, and stakeholders to understand barriers to physical activity among children in low-income households in Colorado and to identify opportunities to increase physical activity.


From April to July 2016, we recruited participants from 5 communities in Colorado with high rates of poverty, inactivity, and obesity; conducted 20 focus groups with 128 parents and 42 youth; and interviewed 8 stakeholders. All focus group participants completed intake surveys. We analyzed focus group and interviews by using constant comparison.


We identified 12 themes that reflect barriers to children’s physical activity. Within the family context, barriers included parents’ work schedules, lack of interest, and competing commitments. At the community level, barriers included affordability, traffic safety, illicit activity in public spaces, access to high-quality facilities, transportation, neighborhood inequities, program availability, lack of information, and low community engagement. Survey respondents most commonly cited lack of affordable options and traffic safety as barriers. Study participants also identified recommendations for addressing these barriers. Providing subsidized transportation, improving parks and recreation centers, and making better use of existing facilities were all proposed as opportunities to improve children’s physical activity levels.


In this formative study of Colorado families, participants confirmed barriers to physical activity that previous research on low-income communities has documented, and these varied by geographic location. Participants proposed a set of solutions for addressing barriers and endorsed community input as an essential first step for planning community-level health initiatives.

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