Email updates

Keep up to date with the latest news and content from BMC Public Health and BioMed Central.

Open Access Research article

Barriers for recess physical activity: a gender specific qualitative focus group exploration

Charlotte Skau Pawlowski12*, Tine Tjørnhøj-Thomsen23, Jasper Schipperijn12 and Jens Troelsen12

Author Affiliations

1 Research Unit for Active Living, Department of Sports Science and Clinical Biomechanics, University of Southern Denmark, Campusvej 55, 5230 Odense, M, Denmark

2 Centre for Intervention Research in Health Promotion and Disease Prevention, National Institute of Public Health, University of Southern Denmark, Øster Farimagsgade 5a, 1353 Copenhagen, K, Denmark

3 National Institute of Public Health, University of Southern Denmark, Øster Farimagsgade 5a, 2. 1353 Copenhagen, K, Denmark

For all author emails, please log on.

BMC Public Health 2014, 14:639  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-14-639

Published: 23 June 2014



Many children, in particular girls, do not reach the recommended amount of daily physical activity. School recess provides an opportunity for both boys and girls to be physically active, but barriers to recess physical activity are not well understood. This study explores gender differences in children’s perceptions of barriers to recess physical activity. Based on the socio-ecological model four types of environmental barriers were distinguished: natural, social, physical and organizational environment.


Data were collected through 17 focus groups (at 17 different schools) with in total 111 children (53 boys) from fourth grade, with a mean age of 10.4 years. The focus groups included an open group discussion, go-along group interviews, and a gender segregated post-it note activity. A content analysis of the post-it notes was used to rank the children’s perceived barriers. This was verified by a thematic analysis of transcripts from the open discussions and go-along interviews.


The most frequently identified barriers for both boys and girls were weather, conflicts, lack of space, lack of play facilities and a newly-found barrier, use of electronic devices. While boys and girls identified the same barriers, there were both inter- and intra-gender differences in the perception of these barriers. Weather was a barrier for all children, apart from the most active boys. Conflicts were perceived as a barrier particularly by those boys who played ballgames. Girls said they would like to have more secluded areas added to the school playground, even in large schoolyards where lack of space was not a barrier. This aligned with girls’ requests for more “hanging-out” facilities, whereas boys primarily wanted activity promoting facilities.


Based on the results from this study, we recommend promoting recess physical activity through a combination of actions, addressing barriers within the natural, social, physical and organizational environment.

Focus groups; Physical activity; Children; Recess; Environmental barriers