Family-based interventions to increase physical activity in children: a systematic review, meta-analysis and realist synthesis

H E Brown, A J Atkin, J Panter, G Wong, M J M Chinapaw, E M F van Sluijs

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Objective: Family-based interventions represent a potentially valuable route to increasing child physical activity (PA) in children. A dual meta-analysis and realist synthesis approach examined existing interventions to assist those developing programmes to encourage uptake and maintenance of PA in children. 

Design: Studies were screened for inclusion based on including participants aged 5-12 years, having a substantive aim of increasing PA by engaging the family and reporting on PA outcome. Duplicate data extraction and quality assessment were conducted. Meta-analysis was conducted in STATA. Realist synthesis included theory development and evidence mapping. 

Results: Forty-seven studies were included, of which three received a 'strong' quality rating, 21 'moderate' and 23 'weak'. The meta-analysis (19 studies) demonstrated a significant small effect in favour of the experimental group (standardized mean difference: 0.41; 95%CI 0.15-0.67). Sensitivity analysis, removing one outlier, reduced this to 0.29 (95%CI 0.14-0.45). Realist synthesis (28 studies) provided insight into intervention context (particularly, family constraints, ethnicity and parental motivation), and strategies to change PA (notably, goal-setting and reinforcement combined). 

Conclusion: This review provides key recommendations to inform policy makers and other practitioners in developing evidence-based interventions aimed at engaging the family to increase PA in children, and identifies avenues for future research.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)345-360
Number of pages16
JournalObesity Reviews
Issue number4
Early online date12 Jan 2016
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2016


  • Family
  • physical activity
  • interventions

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