Increasing physical activity to boost long term health in LambethA collaborative project led by LSBU researchers and Lambeth Council is improving the long-term health of young women in the borough
Tackling inactivity to improve long-term health
Young women and girls living in Lambeth are often physically inactive. Since physical inactivity is the fourth leading cause of chronic non-communicable disease, increasing active living in this population is key to improving their long-term health.
Health research is changing. Policy guidance advocates that physical activity services link with academia to demonstrate impact via robust evaluation. For academia, a lab-to-community approach to research with focus on practical interventions for real world impact is recommended. For us here at LSBU it means we can work with local organisations and help to improve health within our local communities.
Dr Lisa Zaidell
Addressing the issue of inactivity in Lambeth
As part of the Active Lambeth, Lambeth Physical Activity and Sport Strategy 2015 to 2020 and the vision that “All people in Lambeth are physically active in their daily lives,” Lambeth Council submitted a joint bid to Sport England’s Community Sports Activation Fund to engage 14- to 25-year-old females in physical activity.
This bid successfully resulted in the ‘This Girl Can Lambeth’ project, which aims to provide 12-week physical activity and sports programmes across the borough, to increase physical activity participation among young females to at least one 30-minute session per week. The three-year, multi-stakeholder project began in January 2016, and is supported by a £636,000 grant co-funded by Sport England and Lambeth Council.
“Our involvement sprang from a recommendation to Lambeth by Southwark Council, on the basis of LSBU’s successful track record for monitoring and evaluating council projects that aim to promote healthy lifestyles and enhance engagement of the local population in physical activity and sports,” says Dr Katya Mileva, Co-ordinator of the Sport and Exercise Science Research Centre (SESRC) at LSBU.
“LSBU’s Research team is set to evaluate the progress and the behaviour change resulting from the delivered sport activation programmes using an ecological (holistic) model. This model maps how the attitude to physical activity is influenced by the provision at individual, intra- and inter-personal, structural, organisational, regulatory and environmental levels. As a result, it combines and considers all factors, from engagement through to retention,” she adds.
Fostering long-term behavioural change
“Based on our findings, we will identify the barriers to, and facilitators for, greater engagement in physical activity with the aim to inform changes in local government policy. We will also research the mitigation of these barriers and look at how deliverers can be engaged to provide improved physical activity outcomes and lasting health benefits.”
Where previous projects of this nature have looked at short-term benefits, LSBU’s team has initiated a step change in the research methodology through using this holistic approach to survey multiple-level factors that influence engagement in physical activity.
Thus, this approach, by looking beyond immediate factors, is specifically geared towards fostering long-term behaviour changes that will be maintained through an individual’s life and not just in the short term. The project’s innovative approach requires cross-disciplinary expert input from the fields of psychology and physiology whilst working alongside community-based physical activity providers – moving research out of the lab and into the real world.
Linking policy and academia for lasting change
“Health research is changing,” says Dr Lisa Zaidell, Senior Research Fellow. “Policy guidance advocates that physical activity services link with academia to demonstrate impact via robust evaluation. For academia, a lab-to-community approach to research with a focus on practical interventions for real-world impact is recommended. For us here at LSBU it means we can work with local organisations and help to improve health within our local communities.”
Key to the project’s success has been the involvement of individuals who are able to converse with and record information from people based in disparate disciplines and sectors. Notably, the appointment of Project Manager Rebecca Donnelly MBE and PhD student Reisha Hull (Director of Studies – Dr. Rita De Oliveira), who all come from competitive sports backgrounds, has helped ensure the project’s smooth running.
What the future holds
Beyond the project, the consortium aims to shape Lambeth Council’s local standards of evidence by adhering to the Standard Evaluation Framework for physical activity interventions (2012) and by reaching NESTA standard at level 5 (2013) for collected evidence on behavioural change and health and wellbeing benefits, which can then lead to the revision of local and national government policy.
- To date 1,100 young females living in Lambeth have been engaged in the project, with in excess of 6,000 sessions delivered by the commissioned local physical activity providers.
- Video testimonials from females who were previously inactive attest to the value of the project.
- Young females spend 66% of their waking hours in a sedentary position, according to the collected baseline data.
- The LSBU Research team has identified that a strong contributory factor is the inactive behaviour of their peers: the perceived norm among their peer group is being inactive. This is despite the research finding that young females are aware of the health benefits of being more physically active.