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Effectiveness of interventions to promote physical activity in children and adolescents: systematic review of controlled trials

BMJ 2007; 335 doi: (Published 04 October 2007) Cite this as: BMJ 2007;335:703
  1. Esther M F van Sluijs, investigator scientist,
  2. Alison M McMinn, PhD student,
  3. Simon J Griffin, group leader
  1. Medical Research Council Epidemiology Unit, Institute of Metabolic Sciences, Addenbrooke's Hospital, Cambridge CB2 0QQ
  1. Correspondence to: E M F van Sluijs esther.vansluijs{at}
  • Accepted 11 July 2007


Objective To review the published literature on the effectiveness of interventions to promote physical activity in children and adolescents.

Design Systematic review.

Data sources Literature search using PubMed, SCOPUS, Psychlit, Ovid Medline, Sportdiscus, and Embase up to December 2006.

Review methods Two independent reviewers assessed studies against the following inclusion criteria: controlled trial, comparison of intervention to promote physical activity with no intervention control condition, participants younger than 18 years, and reported statistical analyses of a physical activity outcome measure. Levels of evidence, accounting for methodological quality, were assessed for three types of intervention, five settings, and three target populations.

Results The literature search identified 57 studies: 33 aimed at children and 24 at adolescents. Twenty four studies were of high methodological quality, including 13 studies in children. Interventions that were found to be effective achieved increases ranging from an additional 2.6 minutes of physical education related physical activity to 283 minutes per week of overall physical activity. Among children, limited evidence for an effect was found for interventions targeting children from low socioeconomic populations, and environmental interventions. Strong evidence was found that school based interventions with involvement of the family or community and multicomponent interventions can increase physical activity in adolescents.

Conclusion Some evidence was found for potentially effective strategies to increase children's levels of physical activity. For adolescents, multicomponent interventions and interventions that included both school and family or community involvement have the potential to make important differences to levels of physical activity and should be promoted. A lack of high quality evaluations hampers conclusions concerning effectiveness, especially among children.


  • We thank Stephen Sharp for his help in interpreting the statistical methods applied and results presented in the included papers.

  • Contributors: EMFvS led the review, identified the research question, and designed the search strategy. She is guarantor for the paper. EMFvS and AMMcM carried out the literature searches and screened the initial results, assessed methodological quality, extracted data, analysed the findings, and drafted the tables. EMFvS drafted the manuscript. All authors contributed to synthesising the results and critical revision of the manuscript, and all approved the final version.

  • Funding: This work was supported by programme grant funding from the Medical Research Council.

  • Competing interests: None declared.

  • Ethical approval: Not required.

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