Physical activity is a major public health issue in many rich countries. In England, one in four women and one in five men are classified as physically inactive, which means they do less than 30 minutes of moderate activity a week. Four in ten adults don’t meet the Government’s recommendation of 150 minutes of physical activity a week.
There are many complex reasons for physical inactivity across a population. A recent academic paper identified 45 factors which may cause physical inactivity – from air quality, to cycling infrastructure, to an individuals’ level of disposable income.
In Gloucestershire, two thirds of people don’t meet the physical activity recommendations. Active Gloucestershire, a charity based in Gloucester, has secured funding over three years to develop and deliver a whole systems approach to address physical inactivity called Gloucestershire Moves. A whole systems approach looks at the complex web of factors that cause a problem, and then aims to identify parts of the system that can be changed.
Gloucestershire Moves aims to help 30,000 people become active, which is defined as doing 150 minutes or more of activity a week. To achieve this, they want to make physical activity the norm across Gloucestershire. They are targeting the physical environment including transport infrastructure, workplaces, communities and schools. This requires help and support from everyone working in Gloucestershire, including the County Council, the NHS trusts, the voluntary and community sector and citizens themselves.
NIHR CLAHRC West and colleagues from the University of Bristol’s School for Policy Studies are Active Gloucestershire’s evaluation partner for Gloucestershire Moves.
The research team aims to understand how the Gloucestershire Moves programme impacts all the factors which cause a population to be active or not.
They will do this using a range of techniques, including:
- analysing professional networks across Gloucestershire and how they work together to address physical inactivity
- systems mapping to understand the factors that influence physical activity in the county
- interviewing senior stakeholders and community members
- analysing large data sets to understand whether physical activity levels have changed over time
This work will be rooted in the principles of realist evaluation, which looks at what works in different contexts to help to change Gloucestershire’s physical activity system.
Our evaluation will help Active Gloucestershire understand the impact of Gloucestershire Moves. It will also allow other areas to learn about implementing a whole systems approach. Where other areas use similar approaches, the collective learning could influence local and national policy on physical activity.
- Dr Charlie Foster, University of Bristol
- Deborah Potts, Active Gloucestershire