The effectiveness of physical activity interventions in socio-economically disadvantaged communities: a systematic review

Prev Med. 2012 Jun;54(6):371-80. doi: 10.1016/j.ypmed.2012.04.004. Epub 2012 Apr 13.


Objective: Interventions to increase levels of physical activity (PA) in socio-economically disadvantaged communities are needed but little is known about their effectiveness. This review examines the effectiveness of interventions designed to increase PA in these communities and the theoretical frameworks and components used.

Methods: Five databases were searched for papers published in English between January 2000 and December 2010 that reported outcomes of PA interventions in socio-economically disadvantaged communities. Studies targeting individuals with pre-existing disease and not reporting a measure of free-living PA were excluded. Two reviewers independently extracted data and evaluated quality of evidence against pre-defined criteria.

Results: Of 478 publications identified, 27 were included. We found that group-based interventions were effective for adults but not for children; evidence for the effectiveness of interventions targeting individuals was insufficient; limited evidence suggested that community-wide interventions produced small changes in PA. Interventions underpinned by any theoretical framework, compared to none, were more likely to be effective. Several effective interventions included education, PA and social support components.

Conclusion: Compared to other approaches, multi-component adult group-based interventions with theoretical frameworks are most effective in increasing PA in socio-economically disadvantaged communities. More robust evaluations of interventions targeting individuals in these 'hard-to-reach' communities are required.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Child
  • Community Health Services / standards*
  • Databases, Factual
  • Evidence-Based Medicine*
  • Exercise / physiology*
  • Health Promotion*
  • Healthcare Disparities*
  • Humans
  • Program Evaluation
  • Social Class*
  • Vulnerable Populations*