SFIA Participation Report: More Americans Active, But Income Continues to Affect Participation

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Sports and fitness participation grew across the United States last year, though levels of intensity varied across the wide variety of physical activities Americans chose to pursue. The annual SFIA Topline Participation Report, the largest sports and fitness participation survey in the U.S., tracking 120 activities at both core and casual levels, reveals all seven major categories (Fitness Sports, Individual Sports, Outdoor Sports, Racquet Sports, Team Sports, Water Sports and Winter Sports) experienced slight growth over the last five years. Youth inactivity rates (ages 6-12 and 13-17) continue to decline moderately for the fourth consecutive year. However, overall inactivity rates were unchanged, at a stagnant 27.3 percent, and lower household incomes continue to be associated with lower physical activity rates. Nearly half of American households making under $25,000 per year reported being totally inactive last year.  

“We remain very concerned with the strong link between income disparity and physical activity rates,” said Tom Cove, President & CEO of SFIA. “Our society cannot allow sports and physical activity to be available only to those with the most means to pay for it.” 

In the team sports category, basketball and baseball, the two sports with the largest total participation base, are showing the strongest gains. Also, niche sports, such as lacrosse, ice hockey, beach volleyball and gymnastics, experienced increases at the core level (which is the best reflection of athletes committed to the sport), but decreases in casual/overall participation.

As for fitness, the largest segment of the seven categories covered, nearly every equipment-based category experienced growth, including treadmill, elliptical, stationary cycling, rowing machine, kettlebells and many others.

“We are encouraged to see most activity categories showing overall increases in participation; but long-term, we need to see these numbers transition from casual to core participants, in order for sustained industry growth to take hold,” added Cove. 

Outdoor participation also remained strong, reflecting America’s interest in an “active lifestyle” and sharing time with family. Activities such as biking, camping and hiking reported strong gains.

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