Background: Insufficient physical activity is a global public health concern. Research indicates incentives can increase physical activity levels of children but has not tested whether incentives targeted at children can be leveraged to increase physical activity levels of their parents. This study evaluates whether a novel incentive design linking children's incentives to both their and their parent's physical activity levels can increase parent's physical activity.
Methods: We conducted a two-arm, parallel, open-labelled randomized controlled trial in Singapore where parent-child dyads were randomly assigned to either (1) rewards to child contingent on child's physical activity (child-based) or (2) rewards to child contingent on both child's and parent's physical activity (family-based). Parents had to be English-speaking, computer-literate, non-pregnant, full-time employees, aged 25-65 years, and with a participating child aged 7-11 years. Parent-child dyads were randomized within strata (self-reported low vs high weekly physical activity) into study arms in a 1:1 ratio. Participants were given activity trackers to assess daily steps. The outcome of interest was the between-arm difference in the change from baseline in parent's mean steps/day measured by accelerometry at months 6 and 12 (primary endpoint).
Results: Overall, 159 and 157 parent-child dyads were randomized to the child-based or family-based arms, respectively. Outcomes were evaluated on an intent-to-treat basis. At month 6, there was a 613 steps/day (95% CI: 54-1171) differential in favour of family-based parents. At month 12, our primary endpoint, the differential was reduced to 369 steps/day (95% CI: - 88-1114) and was no longer statistically significant.
Conclusions: Our findings suggest that novel incentive designs that take advantage of group dynamics may be effective. However, in this design, the effectiveness of the family-based incentive to increase parent's physical activity was not sustained through one year.
Trial registration: NCT02516345 (ClinicalTrials.gov) registered on August 5, 2015.
Keywords: Accelerometer; Activity tracker; Children; Group; Incentives; Parents; Physical activity; Randomized controlled trial; Rewards; Steps.