Deconstructing Physical Activity Self-Efficacy: A Critical Review of the Literature

Monday, 9 November 2015: 3:55 PM

Vicki R. Voskuil, MS, BSN, RN, CPNP
Lorraine B. Robbins, PhD, RN, FNP-BC
College of Nursing, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI, USA

A global decline in physical activity from childhood to adolescence has resulted in an increased the risk for obesity, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. Physical inactivity among youth has generated increased research directed toward enhancing physical activity self-efficacy to reverse this disconcerting trend. While self-efficacy has been found to be a consistent correlate and determinant of physical activity, these findings are not consistent across studies. Multiple conceptual definitions for physical activity self-efficacy are evident in the literature and measurement of the concept is highly variable, indicating the need for clarification of the concept to ensure adequate translation of research findings into practice. A critical review of the literature was carried out to deconstruct the concept and identify research implications. The PubMed, Cumulative Index of Nursing and Allied Health Literature, PsychInfo, Educational Resources Information Center, and Sociological Abstracts databases were searched for publications from 1990-2013. Search terms included self-efficacy, physical activity, youth, children, adolescent, and teen. A total of 838 abstracts were reviewed including peer-reviewed articles, systematic reviews, and theoretical articles. Additional inclusion criteria were articles published in English, time frame of 1990-2013, and age up to 18 years. Conference abstracts, dissertations, editorials, articles involving adults, and self-efficacy literature related to other health behaviors were excluded. After a review of the abstracts and removal of duplicates, 276 articles were selected for further appraisal. A total of 55 articles meeting inclusion criteria were included in the review. The articles represented a range of disciplines with the majority from kinesiology, public health, and nursing (n = 37). A strong international focus was evident in the sample with 23 (42 %) of the selected articles representing 14 countries. The sample included quantitative (n = 47) and qualitative (n = 2) research, systematic reviews (n = 4), and theory-based articles (n = 2). Four articles included youth with chronic conditions. Rodger’s evolutionary method of analysis was used to collect and analyze the data and social cognitive theory guided the analysis. Data were analyzed with particular focus on the attributes, antecedents, and consequences of the concept. Defining attributes of physical activity self-efficacy were identified as personal cognition or perception, self-appraisal process, related action, power to choose physical activity, dynamic state, and bi-dimensional nature. Antecedents and consequences were consistent with social cognitive theory. Related concepts included competence and confidence. Youth physical activity self-efficacy was defined as a youth’s belief in his/her capability to participate in physical activity and to choose physical activity despite existing barriers. Because physical activity self-efficacy is a key concept in many theories aimed at health promotion, consistent conceptual and operational definitions are important for advancing the science related to the concept. Theory-based interventions designed to increase both the antecedents of self-efficacy and the concept directly may have the potential to promote physical activity among youth. Research should be aimed at establishing consistency in conceptual definitions and empirical measurement to further develop the concept across disciplines and ensure accurate translation of findings into practice. Given the heterogeneity of instruments in the literature, research should focus on refining measures to adequately reflect the defining attributes of the concept. Examination of the development of physical activity self-efficacy as youth age is also warranted as the relationship between age and physical activity self-efficacy was not consistent across studies. Future research should assess gender differences related to self-efficacy, particularly because girls tend to report lower physical activity self-efficacy than boys. These efforts may lead to improvements in the tailoring of interventions for specific subgroups of youth. This comprehensive analysis has resulted in a refined conceptual definition of youth physical activity self-efficacy and has enhanced the clarity of the concept. Continued theory-building involving physical activity self-efficacy is suggested with the ultimate goal of increasing physical activity and promoting a healthy lifestyle among youth worldwide.