Background: The benefits of physical activity for reducing obesity and related chronic diseases are well known. The need for more family-based interventions to increase physical activity is frequently cited in the literature; however, little is known about if and how families are physically active together, and what factors might influence family-based participation in regular physical activity. This study examined the types of activities (physical and sedentary) engaged in as a family and explored parents' perceptions of the importance, frequency, nature and barriers to family physical activity.
Methods: Semi-structured telephone interviews were conducted with 30 parents (26 female, four male) of 10- to 11-year-old schoolchildren who attended either low, middle or high socio-economic status schools in Bristol, UK. Interviews were transcribed verbatim, anonymized and analysed using conventional content analysis.
Results: The majority of parents rated family engagement in physical activity as important, and identified benefits such as increased parent-child communication, spending time together, enjoyment, enhanced mental health, weight control and physical fitness. Despite these benefits most parents reported their families did little or no physical activity together as a family unit during the week, and any activities performed together were usually sedentary in nature. They reported increased family physical activity on the weekends but rarely including the full family unit simultaneously. Parents in two-parent households commonly paired off with one or more children because of complexities of schedules. Commonly reported barriers were busy lifestyles, diverse ages and interests of children and adults, bad weather, and lack of access to facilities, transportation and money to support activities.
Conclusions: Family-based interventions might be more effective if they are designed to accommodate the complex demands and needs of two-parent and single-parent families and provide affordable, diverse activities appealing to a wide range of interests.