Repository logo

What research evidence exists about physical activity in parents? A systematic scoping review.

Published version



Change log


Hesketh, Kathryn R 
Ellis, Kate 
van Sluijs, Esther Mf 


OBJECTIVES: 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. METHODS: 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. RESULTS: 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%). CONCLUSIONS: 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. REVIEW REGISTRATION:



epidemiology, public health, social medicine, Child, Cross-Sectional Studies, Exercise, Humans, Mental Health, Parents, Qualitative Research

Journal Title

BMJ Open

Conference Name

Journal ISSN


Volume Title



MRC (MC_UU_00006/5)
Economic and Social Research Council (2405254)
Wellcome Trust (107337/A/15/Z)
MRC (MC_UU_00006/7)
Rachel F Simpson is funded by an ESRC studentship (RG84395). The work of Esther M F van Sluijs is supported by the Medical Research Council (grant number MC_UU_00006/5). Kathryn R Hesketh is funded by the Wellcome Trust (grant number 107337/Z/15/Z). The work of Kate Ellis is funded by NIHR School for Public Health Research (grant number SPHR-PROG-WSBT-CS2).