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Physical activity and the ecological model

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As briefly mentioned at the beginning of this module, there are a number of factors that influence children’s physical activity. In this section, we will investigate some of these factors and how these are important at different stages across the lifespan and vary from different types of physical activity and different locations where physical activity may occur. Over the past two decades, there has been a dramatic increase in the number and types of factors examined. In a recent study conducted in 2012, Sallis and Bauman reviewed the evidence to identify the factors affecting physical activity. They summarized these factors into an ecological model with five main areas.
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Number 1, individual factors, which include biological and demographic factors like age, sex, and socioeconomic status, and physiological factors such as a person’s confidence to be physically active, their motivation, and attitudes towards physical activity. Number 2, interpersonal factors. These include social support and cultural practices. Number 3, environmental factors, such as the weather, access to parks and recreation facilities, and level of crime in the neighborhood. Number 4, regional and national policy factors, such as the existence of physical activity guidelines or plans, transport systems, and policies in the health sector to support obesity prevention and physical activity. And finally, global factors which include organization and global product marketing.
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These domains are interconnected with certain domains being more influential at different points across the life course. For example, physical activity during childhood are predominately influenced by factors identified at the individual level as well as factors identified in the interpersonal level. Other environmental factors have also been shown to influence children’s physical activity, including policies relating to physical activity within the childcare setting and environments that encourage physical activity, such as access to equipment, outdoor space, and the presence of play areas that are safe and clean within a neighborhood. As children mature from childhood to adolescence, additional domains seem to be important in determining the amount and type of physical activity.
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For example, factors influencing physical activity during adolescence include those identified in the individual and interpersonal domain as well as those from the environmental domain. The regional and national policy domain and the global domain have a greater influence during adulthood. So in conclusion, the ecological model of physical activity helps us understand the multiple factors that influence physical activity. Any efforts to change physical activity behavior should be based on understanding the connections between the different levels and domains of the ecological model, that is, the individual, social environment, physical environment, and policy levels. Once we understand these factors and the connections between the factors, we can identify areas where we can intervene and support children to be physically active.
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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