Empowering Youth Through Research: Adolescent's Perceptions of Physical Activity


  • Sam Zizzi Western Virginia University
  • James A Rye West Virginia University
  • Elizabeth A Vitullo West Virginia University
  • Nancy O'Hara-Tompkins West Virginia University


Active participation in evaluation and research projects can empower youth and effect community change. Adolescents along with supervising teachers participating in after-school Health Sciences and Technology Academy clubs conducted research projects to increase physical activity in Appalachian communities. The sample involved 50 adolescents who participated across one of six focus groups. Two primary themes emerged from the focus groups, indicating the impact of the research experiences on students, teachers, and their communities. First, students reported increased public health and research competence as well as feelings of self-worth. Second, the participants reported developing a stronger sense of the barriers to and facilitators of physically active lifestyles relevant in their local communities. This research substantiates the “youth as asset” paradigm and suggests that involving adolescents in community health research benefits both them and their communities.

Author Biographies

Sam Zizzi, Western Virginia University

Sam Zizzi is an Associate Professor in the School of Physical Education.

James A Rye, West Virginia University

James A. Rye is an Associate Professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction/Literacy Studies, College of Human Resources and Education.

Elizabeth A Vitullo, West Virginia University

Elizabeth Vitullo is Associate Director of the Executive MBA program in the College of Business and Economics.

Nancy O'Hara-Tompkins, West Virginia University

Nancy O'Hara Tompkins is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Community Medicine, Robert C. Byrd Health Sciences Center.