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01.12.2015 | Research article | Ausgabe 1/2015 Open Access

BMC Public Health 1/2015

Engaging families in physical activity research: a family-based focus group study

BMC Public Health > Ausgabe 1/2015
Helen Elizabeth Brown, Annie Schiff, Esther M. F. van Sluijs
Wichtige Hinweise

Competing interests

This research received no specific grant from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors. This work was supported by the Medical Research Council [Unit Programme numbers MC_UU_12015/7], and undertaken under the auspices of the Centre for Diet and Activity Research, a UKCRC Public Health Research Centre of Excellence which is funded by the British Heart Foundation, Cancer Research UK, Economic and Social Research Council, Medical Research Council, the National Institute for Health Research, and the Wellcome Trust (RES-590-28-0002). This article presents independent research in which the funders had no involvement in the study design; the collection, analysis, and interpretation of data; the writing of the article; or the decision to submit the article for publication. The views expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the NHS, the NIHR, the Department of Health or the other funders.

Authors’ contributions

EvS and HEB conceived of the study, including its design and methods. HEB and AS recruited participants, conducted data collection and performed duplicate content analysis of transcripts. HEB led interpretation of results and drafted the manuscript; all authors read and approved the final manuscript.



Family-based interventions present a much-needed opportunity to increase children’s physical activity levels. However, little is known about how best to engage parents and their children in physical activity research. This study aimed to engage with the whole family to understand how best to recruit for, and retain participation in, physical activity research.


Families (including a ‘target’ child aged between 8 and 11 years, their parents, siblings, and others) were recruited through schools and community groups. Focus groups were conducted using a semi-structured approach (informed by a pilot session). Families were asked to order cards listing the possible benefits of, and the barriers to, being involved in physical activity research and other health promotion activities, highlighting the items they consider most relevant, and suggesting additional items. Duplicate content analysis was used to identify transcript themes and develop a coding frame.


Eighty-two participants from 17 families participated, including 17 ‘target’ children (mean age 9.3 ± 1.1 years, 61.1 % female), 32 other children and 33 adults (including parents, grandparents, and older siblings). Social, health and educational benefits were cited as being key incentives for involvement in physical activity research, with emphasis on children experiencing new things, developing character, and increasing social contact (particularly for shy children). Children’s enjoyment was also given priority. The provision of child care or financial reward was not considered sufficiently appealing. Increased time commitment or scheduling difficulties were quoted as the most pertinent barriers to involvement (especially for families with several children), but parents commented these could be overcome if the potential value for children was clear.


Lessons learned from this work may contribute to the development of effective recruitment and retention strategies for children and their families. Making the wide range of potential benefits clear to families, providing regular feedback, and carefully considering family structure, may prove useful in achieving desired research participation. This may subsequently assist in engaging families in interventions to increase physical activity in children.
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