PublicationsTopic index of systematic reviewsKnowledge pagesPhysical activity
Physical activity
This page contains the findings of systematic reviews undertaken by the EPPI Centre Health Promotion and Public Health Reviews Reviews Facility

General promotion strategies
Walking and cycling
Sports injuries

General promotion strategies

  • A 'whole school' approach (i.e. one involving all members of the school community) can promote greater involvement in physical activity.[1]
  • Ideas for promoting physical activity include: 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).[1]
  • Multi-component, multi-site interventions using a combination of education in the classroom, improvements in school PE, and home-based activities, can be effective.[2]  
  • School-based peer-led initiatives, particularly where peers also lobby for environmental changes throughout the school, can be beneficial.  However, these may be more effective for promoting healthy eating than physical activity.[1]
  • Engaging parents in supporting and encouraging their children's physical activity and providing opportunities for family participation, can be effective.[2]
  • Education and provision of equipment for monitoring TV or video game use may reduce sedentary behaviour.[2]

A systematic map [4] concluded that there was sufficient evidence to conduct a systematic review on the factors/mechanisms that link sedentary behaviour to obesity and the most effective interventions to reduce sedentary behaviour in children aged 6-16.

Walking and cycling [3]

Analysis of this research revealed four recurrent themes drawn from the views of children, young people and parents:

  • A culture of car use which reinforced perceptions of the benefits of travel by car and discouraged the use of alternative modes. 
  •  Fear and dislike of local environments, including concerns about safety, traffic, and inadequate facilities for cyclists and pedestrians.
  • Children perceived themselves to be responsible transport users in their own right.
  • Parents’ perceptions of their own roles and responsibilities, and children's views of these, influenced transport choice at the level of the family.

All these themes differed in importance and content according to factors such as children's age, sex, and location.

Some effective interventions have targeted the public's fear and dislike of their local environments. Social marketing strategies, which provided tailored information about the benefits of walking and cycling, are interventions which are both appropriate and effective. Social marketing strategies provided in combination with cycle networks are also effective. Further, it appears necessary to target interventions specific to the ages, sex, location and socio-economic status of participants.

Specific recommendations include the following (the full list can be found in the Summary):

  • encouraging walking and cycling as activities which promote both physical and psychosocial health, to parents as well as to children, and marketing them as 'cool'.
  • marketing of walking and cycling to children as environmentally friendly, within rigorous evaluations
  • rigorous evaluations of interventions addressing cycle crime
  • rigorous evaluations of interventions that encourage children to discuss with their parents the ways and reasons to reduce car use in favour of more active forms of transport
  • designing interventions tailored to the target audience’s age, sex, socio-economic status (SES) and location
  • consideration of the views of children, young people and parents in order to develop interventions to address concerns about personal safety
  • interventions combining improved pedestrian facilities, traffic restraint and publicity campaigns be attempted first within a rigorously evaluated intervention to determine whether they are specifically effective in improving active transport
  • close inspection of studies addressing concerns about accidents in order to identify the likely active elements of effective interventions
  • rigorous evaluations of interventions that promote the idea that being a ‘good’ parent means demonstrating appropriate walking and cycling behaviour, and allowing children to walk and cycle in order to encourage independence safely, while simultaneously caring for the environment

To see a knowledge page on cycle helmets, click here

Sports injuries

To see a knowledge page on sports injuries, click here


1. Young people and physical activity: a systematic review of research on barriers and facilitators  (2001)

2. Children and physical activity: a systematic review of barriers and facilitators (2003)

3. A synthesis of research addressing children’s, young people’s and parents’ views of walking and cycling for transport (2006)

4. A systematic map of the research on the relationship between obesity and sedentary behaviour in young people (2009)

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