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Physical activity and the ecological model


Over the past two decades, there has been a dramatic increase in the number and types of factors influencing a child’s physical activity, and the ecological model of physical activity helps us understand these multiple factors.

The ecological model

This model was developed by Sallis and Bauman (2012) in response to findings from their study which reviewed evidence to identify factors affecting physical activity. The ecological model helps us to identify factors influencing a child’s physical activity. In particular, it helps us to identify factors that are important at different stages across the lifespan, and how they vary for different types of physical activity and different locations where physical activity may occur. The ecological model summarises these factors into five main areas:

  1. Individual factors: biological and demographic factors like age, sex and socioeconomic status, and psychological factors such as a person’s confidence to be physically active, their motivation, and attitudes towards physical activity.
  2. Interpersonal factors: social support and cultural practices.
  3. Environment factors: the weather, access to parks and recreation facilities, and level of crime in a neighbourhood.
  4. Regional or national policy factors: the existence of physical activity guidelines or plans, transport systems, and policies in the health sector to support obesity prevention and physical activity.
  5. Global factors: urbanisation, and global product marketing.

Ecological model diagram (Click to expand)

These domains are interconnected, with certain domains being more influential at different points across the life course.

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Preventing Childhood Obesity: an Early Start to Healthy Living

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