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Young people and physical activity: a systematic review of research on barriers and facilitators

What do we want to know?

Physical activity promotion is high on the health policy agenda in the UK. Evidence regarding the increased prevalence of obesity and inactivity amongst young people is mounting.  This review provided a summary of evidence to help develop, implement and evaluate interventions for promoting physical activity amongst young people. It had a particular focus on young people from socially excluded groups and on interventions targeting structural or environmental  barriers to physical activity (e.g. poor access to facilities).

Who wants to know?

Practitioners, policy-makers, researchers, young people.

What did we find?  

  • Reliable evidence on the effectiveness of health promotion efforts was scarce. There was evidence of improvement in knowledge, and differences according to gender. Most of the research did not look at socially excluded young people or those who seldom go to school so their findings may not be applicable to these groups.
  • Most young people saw physical activity as beneficial for both health and social reasons. Young women particularly valued the role of physical activity in maintaining weight and a toned figure, but, unlike young men, they found that physical activity did not fit in well with their leisure time.
  • Ideas for promoting physical activity included: increasing or modifying practical and material resources, such as creating more cycle lanes; making activities more affordable; increasing access to clubs for dancing and combining sports with leisure facilities; and more innovative choices in school Physical Education (e.g. dancing, cycling and aerobics).

What are the implications?

  • There are major gaps for research and development, particularly in the areas of parental constraints and the interaction with mental health.
  • Interventions are needed which increase the range of 'free' activities; improve school facilities; provide more choice of activities in school; and emphasise the fun and social aspects of sport.
  • Future initiatives should take young people's views as a starting point.

How did we get these results?

The review map was based on 186 studies, Twelve outcome evaluations and sixteen studies of young people's views were synthesised in the in depth stage of the review.

This summary was prepared by the EPPI Centre

This report should be cited as: Rees R, Harden A, Shepherd J, Brunton G, Oliver S, Oakley A (2001) Young people and physical activity: a systematic review of research on barriers and facilitators. London: EPPI Centre, Social Science Research Unit, Institute of Education, University of London. 

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