Supporting primary schools to close the gap in physical activity level created by disadvantage in children from low socioeconomic backgrounds

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


Background: Current physical activity guidelines in the UK recommend that children engage in moderate-to-vigorous-intensity physical activity for an average of at least 60 minutes per day across the week. Fifty-three percent of UK children aged 5-16 years do not meet these recommendations, with this figure higher in those from low socioeconomic backgrounds. Research indicates that UK children from low socioeconomic backgrounds not only do less physical activity but are also less likely to enjoy being active.

Lower levels of physical activity contribute to the pre-existing health inequalities present among children from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. Cost, family support, poor accessibility, and lack of awareness are the most salient barriers to being active for children from low socioeconomic status households. Traditional public health interventions can actually increase health inequalities as they often rely on individual-level behaviour change rather than understanding the wider determinants of health. Focusing on environmental determinants and how they facilitate behaviours like physical activity may be more effective in enabling healthy behaviours for those from disadvantaged backgrounds. Schools are ideally positioned to help drive change. However, the impact the school environment has on activity levels for children from different socioeconomic backgrounds is poorly understood.

In 2016, the UK government tasked schools with providing 30 minutes of the recommended 60 minutes of physical activity per day. Although Public Health England provide guidance on increasing physical activity in schools, with reference to addressing the gap in physical activity among socioeconomic groups, there is no advice on how to support those from a disadvantaged background to be more active.

Aims and Methods: This project will aim to use an interdisciplinary, mixed-methods approach to identify the role that the school environment plays in reducing inequalities in physical activity levels between children from different socioeconomic backgrounds. This will be achieved by conducting three studies:

1. A secondary data analysis will be used to determine which school-level factors are associated with increased physical activity levels among low socioeconomic status pupils.

2. A qualitative study will then explore the barriers and facilitators, perceived by staff and pupils in primary schools, in supporting children from low socioeconomic backgrounds to achieve recommended physical activity levels.

3. A three-month placement with the Youth Sports Trust will be spent co-creating a resource containing guidance on how primary schools can support children from low socioeconomic backgrounds to overcome barriers and implement factors to increase physical activity levels. This guidance will be piloted in primary schools to evaluate its feasibility, acceptability, and potential effectiveness.

Potential applications: This research will seek to a) contribute important knowledge regarding the association between socioeconomic status, the primary school environment, and physical activity in children, and b) work with primary schools and stakeholders, such as the Youth Sports Trust, to co-create a resource that primary schools can use to help close the gap in children's physical activity level created by inequality and disadvantage.

OIV to Canada may be sought.


10 25 50

Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
ES/P000630/1 01/10/2017 30/09/2027
2381327 Studentship ES/P000630/1 28/09/2020 27/09/2024 Jessica Harvey