Social Marketing for Physical Activity and Health: Encouraging Patterns of Physical Activity in School Children
Parnell, Samantha Helen Sylvia
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
Physical inactivity is one of the major public health problems of the 21st Century. In England it is reported that two thirds of adults (>16 yr) and one third of children (<16 yr) do not do sufficient physical activity to gain the health benefits that leading a physically active lifestyle has to offer. The benefits of physical activity and dangers of a sedentary lifestyle to health outcomes are well documented and numerous studies have investigated physical activity participation. Indeed, many interventions have been trialled to increase engagement in physical activity; however results are weak and generally do not correlate to sustained physical activity participation. Furthermore, much debate exists on how best to encourage both children and adults alike to engage in sufficient physical activity to maintain a healthy lifestyle. The purpose of this research was to address this important research gap and to assess the physical activity levels and other factors for promoting engagement in physical activity of school aged children in Devon aged 7-15 years in order to assess the feasibility of using social marketing within the school setting to increase sustained physical activity participation. A mixed methods approach was adopted to gather data and consisted of both quantitative and qualitative methods, in two phases. The initial phase was quantitative in nature and utilised a self-report survey based on the theory of planned behaviour (TPB) (Azjen, 1991) and social cognitive theory (SCT) (Bandura, 1977) to measure the participants’ physical activity levels; it also measured their beliefs and attitudes, subjective norms, perceived behavioural control and self-efficacy pertaining to physical activity participation. The second phase utilised qualitative methods adopting the socio-ecological model (McLeroy et al., 1988) to identify opportunities to promote participation in physical activity in recognising the multiple factors (individual, social environment, physical environment and policy) that influence an individual’s behaviour. This phase consisted of a series of interviews with the students, teachers and head-teachers to enable the researcher to gain in depth information into physical activity patterns and beliefs. During phase two, ethnographic research was also conducted across a number of schools in Devon to complement and enhance the data collected in the survey. The results revealed that of the 1124 participants (‘students’) surveyed, 48% were not sufficiently active to meet the government guidelines. Males were 30% more active than females. Physical activity decreased with age (e.g. 15 yr olds on average taking part in 3 hours less activity than 7 yr olds). Lifestyle/recreational activities were the most regularly participated activities (e.g. walking – 52%, running – 31%, football – 29%, outdoor play – 28%). Moreover, attitudes, subjective norms and perceptions of behavioural control affected physical activity participation both in and out of the school setting. Self-efficacy also played a role in physical activity participation. The results of the thesis show that interview and ethnographic data produced a rich source of evidence. Physical activity provision within schools played a major role in students’ physical activity. Overwhelmingly the qualitative data revealed that students want greater choice in the physical activities they participate in and suggest that the focus of PE lessons should be on having fun and enjoyment rather than skills and rules. Transition from primary to secondary school affected physical activity participation and therefore experiences in schools, may affect children’s general views on physical activity which it is suggested may impact on physical activity participation beyond the school gates and also in adulthood. This thesis provides substantial evidence to support the link between the school environment and participation in physical activity in children and adolescents. More specifically it highlights a need to incorporate a ‘whole school approach’ to physical activity participation. This research has demonstrated that there is an urgent need to combine theory based physical activity research in schools with that of social marketing. Physical activity researchers and social marketers should combine their knowledge to bring together social marketing campaigns within schools to enhance the health and wellbeing of the whole school environment for both staff and students. An innovative school based social marketing campaign should encourage physical activity both within and outside the school environment and lead to sustained levels of physical activity participation across the life stages.
PhD in Geography