Date of Award

Fall 2020

Degree Type


Director of Thesis

Dr. Nicole Zarrett, Ph.D.

Second Reader

Devin Waldrop, MA, EdS


Stress levels of American teenagers are rising. Studies show that teens are reporting higher stress levels than what they perceive to be healthy and that these levels are higher than the levels of perceived stress reported by adults (APA, 2013). In addition to reporting unhealthy levels of stress, adolescents are reporting feeling overwhelmed and depressed due to their stress (APA, 2013). These findings are especially true for underserved adolescents who are more likely to have exposure to violence, discrimination, racism and conditions of poverty in addition to experiencing the typical stressors associated with adolescence (American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 2019; APA, 2013; CDC, 2017 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance). Underserved youth also face barriers that prevent them from engaging in PA such as a lack of support and safety concerns (Dubow et al., 1997). Physical activity (PA) has long been known to benefit physical health and has more recently been shown to improve mental health, specifically stress. However, little research has examined how an intervention to increase youth PA can reduce perceived stress and related internalizing symptoms among adolescents. The current study set out to 1) examine the degree to which youth within underserved communities are stressed and experiencing internalizing symptomology considering variations by key youth characteristics (i.e., race, gender, age) and 2) to examine whether youth in the PA intervention have greater reductions in stress and internalizing symptoms as compared to youth in the control from baseline to post-intervention, controlling for individual variances in race, gender, age, and program site. With alarmingly high rates of stress among adolescents, particularly among underserved youth, implementation of a PA intervention within after school programs (ASPs) offers potential to reduce youth stress through improving adolescent PA engagement. ASPs offer a safe, educational and positive environment for students after normal school hours. Findings from the present study determined that in a sample of 338 adolescent youth from underserved communities in the southeast region, baseline stress levels were at similarly high levels compared to national averages and that there were no statistically significant differences by gender, age, race or intervention versus control. However, findings from the study found no differences in students perceived stress or internalizing symptoms between the control and interventions at baseline and endpoint.