Overcoming Inequalities to Increase Physical Activity Levels within Primary School Children

Lead Research Organisation: University of Bath
Department Name: Department for Health


Many children do not meet current physical activity targets and there is strong emerging evidence that there are significant inequalities in physical activity levels, both within a school day and outside school hours. Low physical activity is a major contributor to obesity, whilst also negatively affecting cognitive function, sleep quality, stress, and academic performance. Low activity can lead to poor mental health, low confidence and low aspirations; whilst also affecting social factors, such as sense of purpose and value, life quality and social relationships. Given that physical inactivity behaviours track from childhood into adulthood, there is an urgent need to address physical inactivity amongst children.

WHO have stated a global aim to reduce inactivity by 10% by 2025. However, previous interventions have not succeeded in increasing physical activity levels and the gaps in equality appear to be widening. Girls engage in less activity than boys and children from lower socio-economic groups have higher levels of physical inactivity. Physical activity opportunities tend to be more readily taken up by pupils from a higher socio-economic status. For this reason, merely intervening with additional physical activity opportunities is unlikely to engage those most in need. Socioecological models demonstrate that numerous factors influence physical activity and it is likely that past interventions have failed due to lack of multidisciplinary approaches and limited engagement with debates around inequalities.

Aims and objectives
The aim of this project is to co-develop innovative strategies in partnership with stakeholders to increase physical activity levels in primary school children.

The project will be divided into three key phases; the first phase involves assessing physical activity levels using innovative technology and in-depth qualitative research to explore and describe individual, structural and environmental factors and differences in physical activity patterns. This information will be used to inform phase two; participatory research will be conducted with children, parents, carers, teachers, governors and external partners to understand the main barriers to physical activity. An intervention and framework will be co-designed, which can be adapted, scaled up and transferred for further impact. A key objective is giving parents and teachers, but most importantly children, a voice to lead intervention development. The final phase of the research will use objective physical activity measures and qualitative feedback to test and refine the intervention. If an additional placement opportunity is secured this will be used to work in schools to further fine-tune the intervention and disseminate findings.

Securing an overseas institutional visit would give the opportunity to further develop knowledge of intervention development and impact through translation from international contexts, and the ability to disseminate findings and transfer knowledge into different applied settings. This research area is a worldwide challenge and therefore it is sensible to draw on the skills and knowledge from institutions globally.

Applications and benefits
This research is designed to determine the successful core principles of a physical activity intervention, which can be used to develop adaptable and scalable programmes to increase children's physical activity across a broad range of settings. The research will give insight into whether the intervention warrants further investigation and could be scaled up and disseminated further. The intervention framework will allow for future collaborations with schools, local authorities, Youth Sport Trust, Sport England and could potentially feed into government policy to increase children's physical activity levels, particularly those most in need.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
ES/P000630/1 01/10/2017 30/09/2027
2233212 Studentship ES/P000630/1 30/09/2019 29/09/2023 Georgina Kathryn Wort