BACKGROUND: Despite known benefits of regular physical activity for health and well-being, many studies suggest that levels of physical activity in young people are low, and decline dramatically during adolescence. The purpose of the current research was to gather data on adolescent youth in order to inform the development of a targeted physical activity intervention. METHODS: Cross-sectional data on physical activity levels (using self report and accelerometry), psychological correlates of physical activity, anthropometic characteristics, and the fundamental movement skill proficiency of 256 youth (53% male, 12.40 ± 0.51 years) were collected. A subsample (n = 59) participated in focus group interviews to explore their perceptions of health and identify barriers and motivators to participation in physical activity. RESULTS: Findings indicate that the majority of youth (67%) were not accumulating the minimum 60 minutes of physical activity recommended daily for health, and that 99.5% did not achieve the fundamental movement skill proficiency expected for their age. Body mass index data showed that 25% of youth were classified as overweight or obese. Self-efficacy and physical activity attitude scores were significantly different (p < 0.05) between low, moderate and high active participants. Active and inactive youth reported differences in their perceived understanding of health and their barriers to physical activity participation, with active youth relating nutrition, exercise, energy and sports with the definition of 'being healthy', and inactive youth attributing primarily nutritional concepts to 'being healthy'. CONCLUSIONS: Data show a need for targeting low levels of physical activity in youth through addressing poor health related activity knowledge and low fundamental movement skill proficiency. The Y-PATH intervention was developed in accordance with the present study findings; details of the intervention format are presented.