A global systematic scoping review of studies analysing indicators, development, and content of national-level physical activity and sedentary behaviour policies

Bojana Klepac Pogrmilovic, Grant O’Sullivan, Karen Milton, Stuart J.H. Biddle, Adrian Bauman, Fiona Bull, Sonja Kahlmeier, Michael Pratt, Zeljko Pedisic

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Background: National policy approaches to physical activity (PA) promotion and sedentary behaviour (SB) reduction are needed to address rising rates of non-communicable diseases. Understanding the policy process and impact through robust research and evaluation is crucial for facilitating successful reforms in national health policy. This scoping review, therefore, aimed to map the evidence on indicators, development, and content of national PA and/or SB policies globally.

Methods: A systematic search of academic and grey literature was conducted through six bibliographic databases, Google, and websites of three large organisations for PA promotion.

Results: Out of 24,872 screened documents, 203 publications from 163 studies were selected. The selected studies investigated PA/SB policies in 168 countries worldwide, and we provided summary results for each of the countries. Overall, 69, 29, and 2% of the analyses of national PA/SB policies were conducted for high-, middle-, and low-income countries, respectively. Twenty-two percent of the studies mentioned SB policies as part of their analysis, with only one study focusing solely on assessing SB policies. Operational definitions of policy were found in only 13% of publications. Only 15% of the studies used a conceptual or theoretical framework. A large variety of methods were used for data collection and analysis of PA/SB policy.

Conclusions: We found that PA policy research is much more developed than it was considered several years ago. Research around SB policies is still in its infancy, but it seems to have experienced some positive progress in the last few years. Three key issues were identified that should be addressed in further research: [i] there is a lack of PA/SB policy research in low- and middle-income countries, which is an important limitation of the current body of evidence; [ii] the definition of policy varied significantly across studies, and most studies did not rely on any theoretical framework, which may impede cross-study comparisons; and [iii] studies have used a variety of methods to analyse policy, which may also cause problems with comparability. Future PA/SB policy research should aim towards a clearer conceptualisation of policy, greater reliance on existing theoretical frameworks, and the use and further development of standardised methods for PA/SB policy analysis.
Original languageEnglish
Article number123
JournalInternational Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity
Early online date28 Nov 2018
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2018

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