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Research Case studies

Researching Physical Activity


Our research in Active Lifestyles specialises in two areas, identifying the impact of becoming - or sustaining already being - active and the impact of interventions aimed at encouraging the uptake of physical activity.


Our work spans the lifecycle and our current portfolio shows the range of locations where our work is placed. Here we give four examples of the many physical activity promotion projects recently undertaken by our 20+ active research staff.

In the SW Essex Playgrounds of the 21century project, Prof. Jim McKenna investigated the impact of playground modifications on break time behaviour of pupils. Class teachers identified that the modifications generated an increase in break-time physical activity in the equivalent of four pupils in every class of 28. This increase in break time activity was also reported by independent observers who were sent to 15 randomly selected schools. Given concerns for growing rates of childhood diabetes and problematic classroom behaviour, and the positive effects that physical activity has for handling both of these issues, this clearly justifies the £3.1m investment in the playgrounds. At a population level, this level of change would outstrip any previous attempt at creating positive behaviour change in young people.

Our three-year community-based project on the Derby City Council ‘b-active’ project has recently concluded, supported by Profs. Jonathan Long and Jim McKenna. Within our partnership with ‘b-active’, we were involved with developing the child-centred, community-wide interventions that we felt would increase involvement in physical activity. The evaluation outcomes are important for two reasons. First, ‘b-active’ is one of the few explorations of community-level change. Second, it revealed an almost 10% increase in the proportions of children and young people (in years 6, 8 and 10) achieving at least 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity per day. During this work the independent Audit Commission ‘Corporate Performance Assessment’ (February 2009) repeatedly identified our contribution as central to the council’s designation as ‘Excellent’. The positive outcomes were central to Derby City Council being awarded substantial subsequent government funding to continue with this work. Other work has investigated the effects of interventions encouraging walking-while-working among university employees. This has been as part of the International Universities Walking Project (IUWP), initiated at Leeds Beckett (Profs. Jim McKenna and Carlton Cooke) and now centred on University of Queensland, with old boy Dr. Nick Gilson. IUWP now involves 10 universities from across the globe and has become one of the main sources of data, publications and research proposals regarding work-based physical activity promotion.

Our final example addresses Premier League Health (PLH). This project focuses on men’s health as promoted by 16 of the Premiership’s clubs. Here, Dr. Andy Pringle and Professor Alan White (Faculty of Health and Social Sciences) have been heading a team of evaluators looking at the impact of these programmes on the health and well-being of hard-to-reach men. The project is funded by the Football Foundation, using football to increase sporting participation and encourage clubs to effect positive social change within their local communities. PLH aims to improve the holistic health and well-being of men from a range of social groups. Given the focus of this first national programme of men’s in premier league football clubs, PLH has a strong connection with main stream health policy such as the Government’s Responsibility Deal and the Public Health White Paper, Healthy People Healthy Lives. Initial findings from the evaluation, show that PLH has engaged hard to reach men with multiple risk factors for cardio-vascular diseases who do not engage their GP on a regular basis. Research income from the project now totals £114K and outcomes have been shared at four international conferences, including the UK Faculty of Public Health Annual Conference in 2011, in peer reviewed journals (two already published and three more either ‘in press’ or in review).

These four main examples signal our commitment to physical activity research. There are many other funded, but no less important, examples of prominent and important research around different forms of physical activity promotion. These are focusing on anything from the impact of improved cycling support in whole cities (CHIPPs; Drs. Lee Ingle and Andy Pringle) to examining barriers to physical activity among 11-year-olds (Kacy Mackreth), the impact of active lessons on total school day physical activity (Pete Mackreth), the integration of activity sessions to enhance bone health in junior school pupils (Dr. Karen Hind), through to school-based audits of physical activity uptake identified through accelerometers and pedometers (Andy Daly-Smith).

Contact Jim McKenna Carnegie Professor of Physical Activity and Men’s Health Tel: +44(0)113 81 27483 Email: j.mckenna@leedsbeckett.ac.uk

hard to reach men

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