Original Research

Exploring children’s perceptions of barriers and facilitators to physical activity in rural Northwestern Ontario, Canada


Brenton L G Button1 MSc, PhD Candidate *

Suzanne Tillmann2 MSc

Jason Gilliland3 PhD, Professor


1, 2 Human Environments Analysis Laboratory and Department of Geography, Western University, London, Ontario, Canada; and Children’s Health Research Institute, London, Ontario, Canada

3 Human Environments Analysis Laboratory, Department of Geography, Department of Epidemiology & Biostatistics, Department of Paediatrics and School of Health Studies, Western University, London, Ontario, Canada; Children’s Health Research Institute, London, Ontario, Canada; and Lawson Health Research Institute, London, Ontario, Canada

ACCEPTED: 9 June 2020

Brenton Button: Exploring children’s barriers and facilitators to physical activity in rural Canada

early abstract:

Introduction: Low levels of physical activity (PA) among children are a significant public health concern in several developed nations. The current research body has failed to adequately gather information on various geographic regions. Understanding barriers and facilitators in different rural regions is imperative for creating successful PA interventions for children in rural areas. The purpose of this study was to explore rural children’s perspectives on PA and discuss barriers or facilitators to PA participation.
Methods: Children (n=84) in grades 4-8 (ages 8-14 years), in rural Northwestern Ontario participated in focus groups to discuss barriers and facilitators to PA. Twenty focus groups were conducted in schools; they were audio recorded and transcribed verbatim. Transcripts were analyzed using thematic analysis. Sub-themes were created based on the explicit content of the data and subsequently grouped to form broader themes.
Results: Three key themes were identified: environment, social environment, and perceptions of safety. Environmental features included weather and the built environment. Social environment included the role of friends and adults to either facilitate or restrict children’s play. The fear of wildlife was pervasive across all focus groups and resulted in restricted independent mobility and PA.  
Conclusion: Rural children are typically under-represented in PA research. The findings of this study reveal that rural children experience some barriers to PA which are distinct from those expressed by urban children. The findings suggest that researchers need to understand contextual nuances on the rural environment. Specific to the setting of Northwestern Ontario, these rural children could benefit from the addition of a skate park, indoor places to play, better relationships with teachers, and more wildlife education.