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

Obes Rev. 2016 Apr;17(4):345-60. doi: 10.1111/obr.12362. Epub 2016 Jan 12.


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.

Keywords: Family; interventions; physical activity.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Exercise*
  • Humans