What research evidence exists about physical activity in parents? A systematic scoping review.
BMJ Open 2022 ; 12: e054429.
PubMed ID : 35387812
PMCID : PMC8987757
Despite the known benefits of physical activity (PA) to physical and mental health, many people fail to achieve recommended PA levels. Parents are less active than non-parent contemporaries and constitute a large potential intervention population. However, little is known about the breadth and scope of parental PA research. This scoping review therefore aimed to provide an overview of the current evidence base on parental PA.
Four databases (MEDLINE, Embase, PsycINFO and Scopus) were systematically searched to identify peer-reviewed articles focusing on parental PA from 2005 onwards, including interventional, observational or qualitative study designs. Title and abstract screening was followed by duplicate full-text screening. Data extracted for all articles (100% checked by a second reviewer) included study design, proportion of fathers and ages of children. For interventional/observational studies, PA assessment method and factors examined or targeted based on the socio-ecological model were extracted, and questions addressed in qualitative studies.
Of 14 913 unique records retrieved, 213 articles were included; 27 articles reported on more than one study design; 173 articles reported on quantitative (81 cross-sectional, 26 longitudinal and 76 interventional) and 58 on qualitative data. Most articles originated from North America (62%), and 53% included only mothers, while 2% included only fathers. Articles most frequently represented parents of infants (56% of articles), toddlers (43%), preschoolers (50%) and primary-school aged children (49%). Most quantitative articles only reported self-reported PA (70%). Observational articles focused on individual correlates/determinants (88%). Likewise, most interventions (88% of articles) targeted individual factors. Most qualitative articles explored PA barriers and facilitators (57%).
A range of quantitative and qualitative research has been conducted on parental PA. This review highlights opportunities for evidence synthesis to inform intervention development (such as barriers and facilitators of parental PA) and identifies gaps in the literature, for example, around paternal PA.
What is the purpose of the review?
Physical activity is beneficial for our mental and physical health, but many people do not achieve recommended levels. Parents have been found to be less active than non-parents so it would be helpful to find ways to increase their physical activity levels. It is important to know what kinds of parental physical activity research have already been carried out so this review aimed to provide an overview of relevant articles.
What we did
We searched four databases to find research looking at parental physical activity. We used pre-set criteria to decide which articles to include. We then noted study design, proportion of fathers, and ages of their children in each article. Where relevant, we also noted how physical activity was measured, what factors were either examined to see if they were related to physical activity or were targeted in programmes to increase physical activity, and what questions parents had been asked about their experiences of physical activity.
What did we find?
We found 213 relevant articles. 173 articles reported on quantitative (i.e. numerical) and 58 on qualitative data (such as from interviews or focus groups). Most research came from North America and included only mothers (53%), whilst 2% of articles included fathers only. Most articles looked at parents of infants, toddlers, preschoolers, and primary-school aged children. Physical activity was most commonly self-reported, and factors relating to the person, such as parent age and physical activity enjoyment, were most investigated or targeted in relation to physical activity. Most qualitative articles explored what made it easier or harder for parents to do physical activity.
What were our conclusions?
A range of quantitative and qualitative research has been conducted on parental physical activity. There are already groups of articles on similar topics which could be combined to inform the development of intervention programmes. This review also suggests where more research is needed, for example, in fathers.